It’s already been almost 4 years since I studied abroad, and I still look at it as one of the top 3 most enriching experiences I’ve had in my life. Whenever I meet people who are still in college, my first question, even before “What is your major?” is “Are you going to studying abroad?”. Not to sound corny, but it really did help me grow in so many ways, I truly believe this is an experience that everyone should be able to have.
Here is a list of some of the fears I felt before studying abroad, and why you shouldn’t let them stop you from having the best experience of your life.
The Fear: You Can’t Afford It
Going to school at home is expensive enough. Studying abroad actually cost me in one semester more than what a year at my home institution would cost me, and the cost of living is a lot more in Sydney, Australia, than it is in Albany, New York. The thing is, studying abroad is such an investment for students in so many ways that it is worth the cost. It not gives students the chance to take classes that wouldn’t necessarily be available in their home institutions, gives them insight into another culture, and enriches their life through experience, it gives them something they can put on their resume and cover letters and bring up in interviews. I can’t even count the amount of times employers have been impressed by traveling tales, and I can now point out that I am clearly adaptable, can handle challenges, and have a more worldly perspective.
There are many different loan options out there for students. Take advantage of them! You will not have to pay the entire thing off at once, so find a payment plan that works for you and give yourself the opportunity to have a life changing experience. And, if you are really worried about money, you can always find a location where your dollar is strong or get a job (I worked at a pizzeria) while abroad for extra cash.
The Fear: You Won’t Make Friends
Now that I have actually studied abroad, I can’t believe I ever worried about this. It is virtually impossible not to make friends. Everyone is in the same boat as you, nervous and just wanting to enjoy their experience abroad. People will be planning sightseeing excursions, bike tours, bar crawls, and dinners all the time, so there will be plenty of options for social interaction. I met my best friend studying abroad (my biffle, photo above) on a bus from the airport the first day when she sat next to me and decided that we would be friends. I agreed on this deal, and I’d say it worked out pretty well, as we’re still close friends 4 years later.
The Fear: You’ll Be Homesick
I cannot name one person I knew studying abroad who didn’t get over their feeling of homesickness within the first week or two. You will be so engulfed in trying to see everything in your city, planning weekend trips, and hitting up the clubs every night that more than likely you will be the opposite of homesick. In fact, when it came time for me to leave Australia at the end of the semester, I called my dad and told him I wasn’t getting on the plane. Because he knew how much I cherished my study abroad experience, he really believed me. Ultimately, I did go home, but if I could have stayed another semester I would have in a heart beat.
The Fear: You Won’t Be Able to Adapt to the Culture
What many people don’t realize is that people are adaptable. You will be living in this new place, eating at the restaurants, running in the parks, grocery shopping at local supermarkets, taking classes in regional institutions…you will adapt. It may take a few weeks, but you will be so immersed in the culture from living there that you won’t even be able to help it. For example, I recently returned from a trip doing a homestay in Ghana. While the food wasn’t my ideal choice (or amount) of cuisine and I didn’t love having no running water, I adapted. I got used to hauling buckets of water from down the street to my shower, and came to enjoy boiled yams and groundnut soup. I even began to speak basic Fanti. Most likely, your conditions studying abroad won’t be as extreme, so you should have no problem fitting right in.
The Fear: You’re Boyfriend/Girlfriend Will Break Up With You
This fear absolutely kills me to hear. Nobody should stop you from living your life to the fullest and having enriching experiences. A significant other should enhance your life, not inhibit it. Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity that shouldn’t be missed because of a relationship that may or may not workout. If it is meant to be it will work out. While long distance is not the easiest situation for couples, it can be done if both partners are willing to have strong communication and little jealousy. It might also be a good idea to go on a break during this time to explore who you each are, as studying abroad is an experience that will undoubtedly cause you to grow and change.
One example from my own life of an experience like this is before I was leaving to backpack Europe for 2 months. I had had a boyfriend (a jealous one, at that) who kept asking me to cancel my trip or at least shorten it. I told him that the trip was something I had been planning for years and was important to me, but if he wanted to come I would be more than happy to have him join me abroad. Right before I left I found out he was cheating on me. Now, can you imagine if I had canceled the trip for him? Do this for yourself.