Fair warning: the following is a privileged white girl’s account and minor critique on about the most privileged white shit there is. Carry on.
Okay that title is a little bleak, I admit, let me explain. Prior to studying abroad our expectations are here (hand roughly grazing ceiling), and we need to bring them down to about here (two to three feet above head). Don’t get me wrong, study abroad is a semester-long hiatus from the real world spent frolicking around Europe, or fill in your continent of choice. “What should we do this weekend” becomes a matter of picking a country within a 4,000 km radius (for all you lowly uncultured Americans that’s 2485.485 miles). Sundays are for last minute brunches and flights home from foreign cities, not 8-hour stints in the library followed by an invigorating chapter meeting (because inevitably along with gallivanting across the globe our hobbies and interests include being a member of a Greek organization among our other rich white people activities). All of the absurdity that is the current US becomes a distant unfortunate reel of headlines rather than actual crises we are forced to face. Procrastinating means finishing up a paper due Monday morning on our Sunday night layover from Budapest to Barcelona. And our biggest problem is whether our pants will still fit when we get home (they won’t), but as with every other at all stressful thought this semester, we can deal with that later, so pass the croissants.
Related: What Nobody Tells you About Going Abroad
So yeah, it’s pretty fucking great, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The number one killer of the abroad experience has got to be the hype that surrounds it for months, even years preceding it. Claiming that any event will be the best day, week, or semester of your life is doomed to disappoint, so the fact that we’ve been hearing that mantra from every abroad-vet we’ve crossed paths with isn’t exactly setting us up for success. And let’s be honest, if I reach the peak at 21, there’s a big ol’ downhill from here. If I didn’t already make it clear, a semester abroad is an insanely amazing experience, when else will we be able to travel for this amount of time with this little responsibility, need for sleep, or concern for what we left behind at home? (The correct answer here is never.) But we’ve been fed this idea that if we’re not in pure and complete ecstasy for the entire 4 months, we’re not making the most of our abroad experience. It’s this unattainable level of awe that we’re supposed to be wrapped up in at all moments of the day that makes abroad seem ever so slightly less awesome. According to the sagas of our elders before us, every weekend should be spent in a new- and aesthetically breath taking- city that has sick clubs, incredible cuisine, and panty-dropping locals. Every foreigner we cross paths with will inspire us and teach us how to say something like “ eternal love” or “ your eyes are as beautiful as the flowing rivers of vino that nourish this city” in their language of origin, and naturally, they will forever leave an imprint on our hearts. The sheer independence of learning a new culture will teach us more about our inner selves than we ever thought there was to know and we will return to America a changed adolescent, no, adult. Ooooor maybe not.
So when we don’t actually form relationships with many locals, we want to stay in some nights because we’re exhausted from traveling, and we kind of miss going to grocery stores that sell peanut butter, it feels like we’re somehow fucking up this awesome opportunity. And the fact that we don’t have a tall dark and handsome Italian man picking us up on his Vespa and escorting us to a little bodega with handmade pasta can begin to overshadow the fact that we are in FUCKING Italy! And we saw the Eiffel Tower last week! And we went to a giant international beer drinking party with all of friends last month!
So when I call for a readjustment of expectations it is not because abroad was not full of incredible travel, unbelievable site seeing, irreplaceable new friendships and memories, and unforgettable food. But if every meal isn’t the most fabulous thing you’ve ever tasted, every Saturday night isn’t the sickest time you’ve ever had, every trip isn’t the most breathtaking travel you’ve ever experienced, you’re pretty much on par with the rest of us. I guess my take-aways would be to enjoy your own time as the individual and isolated experience it is, removed and incomparable to those you’ve heard of, seen pictures of, or assumed you would be having. Allow yourself downtime and accept that if something isn’t the greatest of all time it’s probably still pretty great. And finally, always remember that calories don’t count overseas.