In the weeks leading up to my study abroad experience, I couldn’t wait to finally board a plane and head overseas. I’d watched countless videos and read numerous blogs on Madrid, Spain, where I’d be studying for the next year. I knew there would be obstacles along the way during my time abroad, and now that I’ve been here for a month, I have gone through some of these challenges.
People often think about language barriers when considering studying or traveling abroad and, although this is a barrier, there are other challenges that come along with this experience.
Here are five challenges besides language learning I have encountered in my time abroad so far, and how I have stayed positive through them.
Going abroad means going out of your comfort zone, which can be both scary and exciting all at once. All of the new experiences can create a lot of anxiety that you might not have dealt with before. I struggled with this a lot in my first couple weeks abroad. I was nervous about meeting and living with my host mom, getting lost on the metro and being late to school, going out alone, and not making friends in my classes.
Although these experiences seemed scary at the time, I feel that even after a month I have grown more independent and confident in myself and in my ability to work through challenges. Knowing that most of the people in my program were also going through similar things and that AIFS had people available to talk to created a great support system.
Homesickness happens differently for each person abroad, but it happens whether you think it will or not. I did not know how homesickness would appear for me. I already go to school four hours away from home in the United States and have never really experienced it there. I also spent a month abroad in Rome, Italy my freshman year of college, but I was there for such a short amount of time I never had time to think about it.
I’ve been in Spain for almost a month now and for me homesickness is not missing a place, but the people. Luckily, technology makes it easy to stay in touch with people back home through apps like FaceTime and WhatsApp. However, you also can’t spend your entire time abroad dwelling on what’s happening at home. It’s important to be present where you are at and allow yourself to fully experience everything being abroad has to offer. Your friends and family want you to love this experience and can’t wait to hear all about it.
Experiencing so many new things and meeting so many new people at once is a wonderful yet overwhelming experience. It can be exhausting both physically and mentally. During my first couple of weeks abroad I felt that I constantly needed to be out doing something.
It’s important to take care of yourself while you’re abroad and find time to rest and recharge in whatever way works best for you so that you can stay healthy and fully enjoy your time. Taking care of yourself and staying healthy should be a priority wherever you are in the world!
4. Finding Your People
I went into my study abroad experience without knowing anybody on my program, so it kind of felt similar to how starting college felt like. I was scared that making friends would be difficult and that I wouldn’t have people to travel with or spend time with, but I was so wrong! Everybody on my program was pretty much in the same boat as me and we were all eager to meet each other and start hanging out. Even just a week or two into the program we already had trips planned together and it felt like we had known each other a lot longer than we really had. Classes also gave me a great opportunity to make friends with people from all over the world which has been really eye-opening.
5. Time Management
School abroad is different from school in the U.S. I have a lot more free time here than I do at home, which is great because I am able to explore the city and hang out with my friends more than I usually am able to. However, this also means I have to manage my time more carefully since it’s a lot easier to procrastinate homework and other tasks. Staying organized and finding environments where I feel productive and focused has helped me work through this and remember that I’m not just abroad, I’m studying abroad, and school is still my priority.