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Why I Don’t Regret Studying Abroad Even Though I Was Disappointed

“Wow, Switzerland! You’re so lucky.” I used to hear it all the time, especially when I returned from study abroad. The only way to respond? “Yes, it was an amazing experience.”

Amazing, sure. Full of doubt, disappointment, self-loathing, weight gain, and homesickness? That too. And that’s ok.

I spent my junior year in Geneva, Switzerland, studying international law and completing an internship. Signing up, it was a dream come true. It was a subject I was passionate about, in a foreign country known for its cosmopolitanism, cheese, and most of all, beautiful mountains. I couldn’t wait.

The first thing I did when I arrived in my new dorm, safely locked away in the bathroom from my new roommate, was cry.

But I told no one. Instead, I wrote this on my blog:

“Switzerland, this is why I love you. The wild here is like the kind you read about in books or see in movies. I’ve passed miles and miles of countryside on trains that continues to stun me. These mountains here defy any kind of explanation of feeling, I just know that I feel something deep within me when I’m up on a mountain, and know that I never want to leave.”

We don’t talk enough about how abroad might not live up to your expectations. We buy into the idea that abroad has to be this amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience like kindergarten, where there are no rules, no parents, and no academic pursuits needed.

“I spent a lot of the semester extremely homesick and stressed out,” says Isabelle*, who spent a semester in Japan. “On top of that, I was upset because everyone tells you that study abroad is supposed to be life-changing.”

Related: It’s Okay to Be Disappointed by Your Study Abroad Experience

Regardless of your transition from high school to college, moving to another country takes you completely outside of your comfort zone. By the time you’re a junior, you’re settled at school. You’ve got your friend groups, your extracurriculars and your professors. There’s not a lot of unpredictability.

Abroad rips you headfirst out of that zone. I was utterly unprepared for city life, French speaking, cooking by myself and living thousands of miles away from my friends, family, and boyfriend. It didn’t matter how often I had visited major metropolitan areas, took French classes, or cooked with my family.

That’s still a good thing.

Even though I spent most of my abroad experience on an emotional rollercoaster, struggling with feeling like a fish out of water (not just in the country, but with my program mates, too) and missing home and my school, I don’t regret it for a minute. It was an amazing once-of-a-lifetime experience, but not for the reasons I expected when I left for the airport in September.

As tough as it was, I learned more about myself than I ever would staying in my comfort zone at school. I learned in short order that I didn’t like international law, city living (you’re talking to a country girl here), working for a nonprofit, or Swiss food.

Yeah, I cried a lot.

But four years later, I wouldn’t change a thing. Without my abroad experience, I wouldn’t be the capable, confident person I am now. I wouldn’t be able to “adult” successfully (okay, still working on it.) Not only did it make me appreciate my collegiate community, it gave me a huge travel bug.

“Study abroad was stressful, but now that I’ve done it I’m ready to travel on my own terms,” Isabelle adds.

I consider myself lucky to have been able to hike gorgeous mountains, see the country, and become comfortable eating and doing things alone. So yes, it was an amazing experience—It’s just taken me a few years to see that for real.

*Name has been changed

Kayla grew up in the small town of Hopkinton, MA, where the Boston Marathon begins. She graduated Colby College in 2014 as a Government and Global Studies major ready to take the tech world by storm. As a marketer for Litmus, an email marketing platform, she builds stories and experiences to help her customers become the best email marketers they can be. She is a passionate writer, reader, hiker, swimmer, runner, and eater who loves to connect ideas and people. Like what she has to say? Check out her blog: www.kaylalewkowicz.com/blog If you want to know more about Kayla, follow her on Twitter: @kllewkow
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