Study Abroad. A two word phrase that inspires a range of reactions ranging from “wanderlust” to “immense fear”. The chance to study in a foreign country for a summer or a semester is a unique, and often life changing, opportunity that allows you to get a taste of a new culture while still having the safety net that being a student affords you. Because everyone’s experience studying abroad is unique and different, it’s hard to honestly give you a general portrayal of what you are going to experience. However, below are some common trends of what you may encounter on your semester abroad and different reactions to each.
You get out of your experience what you put in.
Just because you are in Spain for 4 months, don’t assume that you will automatically become fluent in Spanish. If your goal when you go abroad is to develop language fluency, then spend your time talking with locals and paying attention in class. Likewise if you want to see what it is like to work abroad, go on a program that requires an internship or seek out one yourself.
You will experience culture shock; that’s ok.
At one point or another, you will have your moment where everything about your new country is awful and all you want to do is go home, eat American food, and have your “real” friends and family surround you. Learning to adapt to new situations is a lifelong skill that goes into overdrive when you are alone abroad. Know that you have people back home proud of you for going on the adventure and that they are just a phone, email, Facebook, or Skype away from being able to say hi.
You will never take the little things for granted.
Trust us, when you’re lost in the middle of town and don’t know how to get home or get sick and need to communicate with a doctor who speaks broken English, when you are abroad—especially in countries where English is not a first language—every task requires three times as much brain power to get something half as good as you would back home. Even if you are lucky enough to study in a country where everyone speaks English, be prepared for the blank stares on people’s faces when you ask them where to find peanut butter.
Contributed by Matt Zonis