Study Abroad: Struggle Edition

You’ve probably been dreaming about this moment for, well, forever. After spending countless hours on social media stalking those artsy Instagrams of your friends at the John Lennon Wall or aesthetically pleasing cover photos at Park Güell, you’re ready to experience the abroad life for yourself. You’re arguably about to have the best semester of your life, full of travels, new cultural experiences, friends, and just pure fun. Amongst all the great things you’ve heard, you can’t wait any longer for the time to come where you’re actually getting on that plane and preparing to embark on your semester or summer away in another country. From my own personal experience spending my semester away studying in Spain, I can tell you this: get ready for what’s probably going to be the craziest time of your life.

That being said, given all the well-deserved hype around this trip, we often forget to realize that there are quite a bit of challenges (or basic first world problems, for that matter) that come with studying abroad. In the midst of talking about the exciting aspects, no one really mentions the struggles. They may be difficult at times, but I can definitely promise you that they’re well worth it to get the amazing experience that is studying abroad. Here are a few to be aware of to get you ready for your trip.

1. Missing Food From Home

Let me preface this challenge by clarifying one thing: I’m not saying the food abroad isn’t good. In fact, it’s amazing. You’ll get to experience some great foods – the most authentic pizza and pasta in Italy, delicious tapas in Spain, and incredibly rich chocolate in Switzerland – just to name a few. However, I can definitely say that there were moments during my trip where there was nothing I wanted more than to go to Whole Foods and get some of their sushi along with the hot foods take out. Sometimes you just want your usual home food, and there aren’t many American equivalents readily available to you when you’re abroad. You’ll definitely miss some of your favorite snacks and desserts, too. Then again, if you’re studying in England, definitely take advantage of the fact that they’re “Americanized” enough to have more of those home options for you. I’ll admit that I went to Whole Foods for two out of four meals while traveling for the weekend in London. No shame.

2. Getting Around

Luckily, most cities have pretty advanced metro systems in this day and age. Then again, there’s nothing like having your own car and being able to take yourself anywhere you want to go without having to deal with wait times or transferring on three different train lines to get somewhere that would probably take 10 minutes by car. At school in the ATL, I constantly find myself complaining about traffic, but I think that after these four months of not having a car, I’ll be grateful to be sitting for 20 minutes in my car not moving rather than standing on a crammed metro.

3. Language Barriers

Everyone in the world speaks English, right? Wrong. Here’s the reality: in many tourist areas people speak English, but you’ll often find yourself in situations where people will give you blank stares when you attempt to speak to them in anything other than their country’s native language. Given that I speak Spanish and studied in Spain, it was kind of comical to watch the blank stares that my friends visiting from other countries got from waitresses when trying to order their coffees in English. If you’re traveling to another country where you don’t speak the language, try to learn some main words so you don’t feel totally lost when you’re trying to thank someone or even just find the nearest bathroom. 

4. "Studying” Abroad 

Contrary to common belief, you actually do have to “study” while studying abroad. Amidst trying to explore your own city and see so many others, it’s definitely a struggle to find time to allocate to your schoolwork. Rather than ending up with an overload of work around finals time and scrambling to pass your classes for the semester, try to allocate some time during the weekdays to keep on top of your classes. You’ll likely be too busy traveling on the weekends to actually do work, so it’s important to try to figure out the best schedule and routine that works for you.

5. Long-Distance Friendships

There’s always talk about long-distance relationships, but what about long-distance friendships? Sure, we all have to deal with long distance friendships in terms of missing our high school friends while we’re away at our own universities, but it takes it to a whole new level when you’re thousands of miles away and also not with all your best friends from college. With the busyness of exploring the world, it’s not the easiest to stay in touch while you’re spending your semester abroad. Additionally, time differences don’t make things much easier. To avoid feeling like you’re out of touch with friends, try to plan in advance for some times to FaceTime. It’ll allow for some quality time while not feeling extremely overwhelmed.

Although there are definitely some struggles, ultimately your time abroad will be the time of your life. With an awareness of these challenges, you’re prepared to know how to best tackle them. Bring some of your favorite snacks in your suitcase, take some extra long drives in your car while you can, and start working on your multi-lingual skills! With this prep, you’ll be ready for the time of your life. Buen viaje…buon viaggio…bon voyage…or, simply put, have a great trip!