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What I Wish I Knew Before Going Abroad

Okay before you say we get it, you studied abroad, hear me out. My semester away in Greece was amazing, but it was not all picturesque scenery, partying on tropical islands, and eating gyros. There are several things that I wish I had known pre-study abroad that would have helped me set realistic expectations and ease my anxiety. While this may not be what everyone needs to hear before studying abroad (different countries, programs, people etc. cause your experience to be completely different from others), these are things I didn’t know about before studying abroad that I wish someone had told me.  

  1. You experience a different types of homesickness

I didn’t understand this until I went abroad, and my friends who also studied away shared the same sentiment. The type of homesickness you experience abroad feels more severe than at college, and I think this is because at your home university, you find different sources of comfort, whether that be in people or a routine. Being in a different country is so exciting as it is so different, but at random times I got waves of homesickness where I longed for the familiar, both in people and places. You also feel so removed from your family and friends in the United States because you are experiencing such a different day-to day. However, I did find the homesickness got better as I developed close relationships and a routine abroad. And for the majority of my time away, I was too excited about my new surroundings to think about life at home. 

  1. You will make mistakes and your plans will f*ck up!!

For me, the most intimidating part of going abroad was planning trips to other countries. My first couple of trips I was super anxious that my transportation would be delayed or canceled, or my housing wouldn’t work out; these things did happen to me, and it was stressful! I can almost guarantee one of your travel plans will change, or you will make a mistake (ie. things like booking the hostel that’s 20 miles from the airport instead of 5). However, two things I had to remind myself is that, 1) you or whoever is planning the trip is likely to make a mistake, but it will still work out, and 2) you can plan as meticulously as you want, but you cannot control everything. You may have to spend the night at the airport, or spend more money than you planned, but most likely, you will be fine and your plans-gone-wrong will be a story that you will laugh about later.

  1. Everyday fashion is different from the US

I cannot speak for everywhere, but this was an observation I made in every European country I visited. Europeans generally dress much nicer than Americans. While in the US, I would never hesitate to go to the mall or lunch in gym shorts and t-shirt, but I never saw someone wear gym shorts unless they were actually at the gym in Europe. In fact, seeing someone wear shorts of any kind was an anomaly. While this was different for me, I did not hate it because it pushed me to explore my style and actually wear the jeans in my closet that I normally avoid. Obviously, wear whatever you are comfortable in, but if you want to blend in with the public, I would recommend wearing pants when you are out and about! 

  1. Do not stress about packing – pack light!

Warning: this will sound annoying but… European fashion is better. I felt so inspired to develop a personal fashion when I was abroad and there were so many affordable stores. Walking around and going into shops was also a fun activity to get to know the area and do something with new friends. Another perk of shopping abroad is that a lot of the stores are not found in the US, so what you buy will be #unique. I would recommend packing light because you will probably leave with more than you arrived. Also, a lot of general brands are offered in different countries (definitely double check before), so I had no problem getting basic toiletries.

  1. Other countries appreciate your effort to speak their language

When traveling, it can feel super stupid to use your elementary knowledge of French or Spanish to greet others, but something I noticed is individuals really appreciate foreigners’ efforts to greet them in their native language. A simple hello or thank you in the country’s language will take you a long way – I always got a smile and an ensuing conversation when I or a friend did this. Generally, locals were so helpful in giving food and activity suggestions, and they were a lot friendlier when it seemed like we were making an effort (a very small one at that) to engage in their language.

  1. When traveling, plan activities

My best memories in the countries I visited were activities we had planned. Doing simple research allowed us to discover free or affordable walking tours, museums, and other activities. I noted that in the countries I didn’t do this for I was unsure what to do with my time and felt stressed it was going to waste. Making a plan (get advice from other people who have been there!) will ensure you make the most of your experience.

  1. Journal when you have time

Writing is not everyone’s cup of tea, but I am so glad I journaled throughout my experience abroad. Firstly, without difficult classes and extracurriculars, I actually had time for it. You will have a lot of downtime or time spent traveling to dedicate to activities you don’t normally do during a typical semester. Secondly, I wanted to have a permanent visual of everything I did to remember my experience. I highly recommend doing this so you always have something to read back on and remind yourself of your time abroad.

  8. Your experience can be amazing-if you make it that

Yes, studying abroad can be amazing, but it is not as if when you touch down in the new country that your life magically changes. There is so much to see and do, but most times you have to take the initiative. You will have to make the choice to reach out to new people to hang out, plan the weekend trips, and go to optional activities your program hosts. It is easy to cling to the one person you know, but it’s the people that go out of their comfort zones and make an effort to understand the country’s culture that get the most out of their experience. So reach out to the girl in your class, introduce yourself to the local barista, go on walks around the city after class. If you put the effort in, your time studying abroad actually can be the best experience of your life.

Madison is a Senior Heath Science major and is passionate about the social sciences, womens' health, and environmental health. Outside of HerCampus, she is a member of Futones acapella group and Furman’s Chi Omega chapter. She is a lover of reality TV, singing, hot girl walks, and mid day naps. Following college, Madison hopes to pursue Occupational Therapy.
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