Since the moment I signed up for the AIFS in Athens, Greece summer program, I dreamt of sunny beaches and life-long relationships with people from around the world and United States. However, getting on a plane by myself and flying across the globe to a new city far from my tiny town in the states was more nerve-wracking than I expected. I had a lot of study abroad feelings.
I began to feel lonely and confused as to why I was sad in the beautiful city of Athens. I was experiencing culture shock, homesickness, and anxiety all at once — like someone had a remote on my feelings and it was broken. The worst part was that no one else seemed to feel this way! So I am here to reassure you that, if you are also having these study abroad feelings, you’re not the only one.
Here are three things you might feel at the beginning of your study abroad experience, and some corresponding advice from yours truly:
1. You might feel alone, and that’s okay!
You just traveled half-way across the globe and are meeting tons of new people in a new environment. Some people may come across friendlier than others, but that’s probably because they feel the same way as you are feeling right now. Alone.
Maybe you are feeling a bit vulnerable and that makes you nervous, or you keep thinking of your friends and family back home in your comfort bubble who you already miss so much. This is completely normal! When I first got to my apartment in Greece, I knew none of my roommates and was so homesick I called my parents three times a day. It sounds like a lot, but at that time, I needed to call and talk with people who I knew loved me and that I could relax around.
Once I began to settle into the groove of a new city and new friends, I began branching out and meeting new amazing friends!
AIFS really helps you in this area by planning events and dinners to let you get to know the peers around you. Because of this, it took me a shorter amount of time to get used to everything than it would’ve back home in the United States! I started talking to my roommates more, inviting myself (which I never do) to things other people mentioned, and jumping on any opportunity that I might have been scared of, but knew I’d enjoy.
The most important thing I can tell you if you are feeling a bit alone is to talk out how you’re feeling with someone else. It could be a friend, parent, counselor (my host university in Greece has a free on-campus one that is included in the AIFS program) — just someone you feel safe around. This might help you to relax a bit more. A fellow study abroad student may feel the same way or give you great advice to help work through it!
I know it’s easy to say these things and harder to do, but try and take the first step at the beginning so that everything else can fall into place. Who knows, you might meet someone who is feeling the exact way and you become best friends abroad!
2. Everything will be happening so fast, you might feel like you can’t keep up!
There will be neighborhood tours, orientation, dinners, and guides around your new city. For me, all of this happened in two days! It sounds like a very short time for so much information but believe me it’s possible! It is tiring and makes for a very long day, but it is worth it in the end because then you will have more time for things you would like to do and have a great foundation to start on.
One tip I wish I knew was to just relax and take a breath or two when I was feeling overwhelmed. So much information was flying at me at once I was dodging them like George Forman (the guy who used to be a pro boxer and now does grill commercials..) in a heated boxing tournament.
I decided instead of wasting my time avoiding to the things wildly flying at me, I would embrace them and just roll with the punches. Once I let go everything began to be less hectic and more fun!
3. You might feel out of control because things aren’t working out exactly as you planned!
When study abroad students tell of their exciting adventures overseas, it’s seems like everything was planned out nicely and worked out in their favor. In reality, you just have to make the best of what you have! You might plan on going to school in the mornings and exploring the rest of day but end up studying instead because of a test coming up soon.
This is completely okay. You might miss some opportunities to see the city, or your plans might fall through. If you miss one night of exploring, try and go out the next night! You will have plenty of opportunities to see Athens or your study abroad city at your own pace and time. It happens sometimes, and you may get caught up. Just remember this is a once in a lifetime opportunity — try and find out what works best for you and do what you can!