Okay, let’s be real for a second. Study Abroad can be REALLY hard.
You can do a lot to prepare yourself and your abroad office can do a lot to prepare you but until to get to where you are studying you don’t realize how hard it really can be.
You miss your friends. You miss your family. You miss campus. So on and so forth.
As Skidmore’s application time comes to an end for Spring 2019 abroad students I want to be really honest about what some of my fellow students and I have experienced.
For one, always make sure you understand your racial context into the society you are traveling. I knew that here in South Africa I would stick out as the country is around 80% black. I never realized how uncomfortable that could be though. Everywhere I go, except for Starbucks maybe, I have people coming up to me because of the fact that I am a white female. I’ve had men approach me calling me “beautiful white angel”, “whiteness means purity so you must be a virgin. I can help with that”, “pretty American baby”, and more. It can be really difficult. That cultural change.
Secondly, be prepared to be homesick. I don’t know if I have met anyone on my trip who has not missed home yet. A lot of us talk about the pain of seeing friends moving onto campus and going to parties. There’s this sense of not purposeful exclusion. Being abroad you need to accept that your friends and families lives do continue without you. I’ve even struggled with accepting that I am going to come back and hear about all these amazing times my friends have had. When you go abroad there is a lot of trust that you put into your friends to find time to communicate with you and accept you back the following semester.
Prepare to question if this was the right program for you. There are of course some people on this trip who feel right at home and are engaging in the content that they have always dreamed about. For me and some others, we wonder if this was the right program for us. We talk about the other programs we wanted to apply for or even programs happening next semester that we would have rather done. I had a really wise person in my life say to me, “Study abroad is about making yourself uncomfortable. If the content isn’t what you want it to be that’s okay. You still have the opportunity to learn about yourself and how to adapt.” So expect the potentiality for regret.
Expect to be bored. I’m not sure if this applies to the typical study abroad program at a university but in my program we do get bored. From lecturers that don’t always spark my interest to not having wifi or easily accessible internet all the time. Public transport is not great and because we are staying in homestays it can be hard to feel comfortable enough to find things to do. Similar to an on campus experience at home, you get bored with your classes at some point or bored being on campus. It’s natural and it happens. Being bored isn’t a bad thing just don’t let it become a habit.
Finally, expect it to not feel like a life changing event while you’re here. I often find it difficult to feel like something is life changing when I’m in the midst of it. It usually isn’t until after that you realize an event changed your life forever. While I recognize the personal growth I’m making and how much I’m learning, I have been let down by the notion of this being “life changing”.
Study abroad is a great experience and I encourage everyone to find their program or country to go to. I think that many good things can come from it and many good things are coming from it but I think that much of the talk surrounding what study abroad is and can be doesn’t address the negatives that can also come from it.