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So You Think You Can Study Abroad? Part Two

Hey colligates! I’m back with part two of my series! This part discusses the less pretty sides of study abroad, all from financial aid to homesickness. I hope by now you are seriously considering doing this, and are looking into it more deeply. Consider me the guru to help you navigate your next adventure. Here are some more truths about study abroad…the good, the bad, and the ugly. 

Do your research…or else

I know the prospect of going to a grand European city like London or Paris seems amazing, but often programs like these that are a semester or a year are usually independent of your school, and therefore can cost a ton of money. It’s better to go to a smaller town outside of these huge international cities and just have the ability to visit than it is to spend $10,000 just to go to one for a few months. Watch out for promising programs of huge cities that offer little when it comes to academics. Study abroad is primarily to STUDY, not just jet off every weekend. You have your entire life to be a tourist, so make sure you’re getting a good education through your program. Yes, scamming exists in study abroad too.

Research! Start with exchanges offered from your school with a host school. Usually, there is an arrangement between schools, and tuition is waived (or the same price you would pay at home without any other high program fees). This may not always be the case with short study abroad programs like spring break or summer, but it usually is for semester or academic year exchanges. Find this out.

Also, speak to your academic advisor on how this will affect your grade. Find out how many of your study abroad credits will transfer into credits back home, and how they will count towards your degree. Find out what you will have to take once you get back in order to be on the right track for graduation.

Most importantly, find out how much money you will need. Is your housing more at home or over there? Is travel included in your fees? Is insurance?  Either way, you will 100 percent need more money than usual. You will be investing in an entire new dorm. You will need money to travel around, for books and new school supplies, and money for eating out until you navigate the grocery stores. And no, don’t bring you kitchen stuff with you, it’s too much of a burden.

Does your school offer scholarships for study abroad? Apply to everything, and talk with the office of study abroad at your school. A lot of times, if you express how much you want to study abroad, your school may try to find money for you to go. Most colleges should want to be on a global scale, and investing in a student abroad is the best way to do that.

You may get really homesick, or even depressed. Sadly, this is not uncommon.

I know those colorful brochures make study abroad seem like the happiest you will ever be. I hate this concept because it seems so finite. My potential for a good life is infinite.

Because of things in my life, relationships falling apart, my stupid birth control, my lack of friends, a death of an old friend back home, and other adjustment factors, I spiraled into a deep depression. So much that I used all the free counseling that my host school offered. It seemed like I got on the plane and my entire life back home fell apart. I had to try to work on that when I was so wanting to enjoy my time abroad.

The ugly split from my group only made matters worse, and the loneliness, coupled with the racism I experienced and later financial troubles almost drove me to insanity. If you have a mental illness like I do, you can feel like you’re not supposed to talk about it when you have this grand opportunity in front of you. You don’t want to seem ungrateful. As someone who was the first in my family to go abroad, I didn’t want to disappoint them by complaining. They had done so much to get me here. I was miserable at a time I was supposed to be my happiest, and wasted a lot of time crying in my room alone, feeling like I was the only person in the world.

I got better after I visited an old friend in France over winter break. I feel like going home would have just made it worse, and I would have given up. I decided to stay. Even if you feel like you want to go home, I encourage you to stay. My fall semester was a wreck! A travesty!

 My spring semester got better, and I even got to direct my own play with the drama society at my host university. It gets better. Make sure you are there to see it. You have to remind yourself that all this pain will be useful one day. You are stronger than you think. Which brings me to my next point.

You will grow beyond belief. This process is not easy.

I learned so much about myself during my time abroad. I learned I am much stronger than I give myself credit for. My family didn’t want me to go. So much that they weren’t giving me money to go. I said oh well, got a scholarship and went anyway. There will be people who tell you a million reasons why you shouldn’t go, and there will be people who will be happy for you. Study abroad is just…life. It can be such a beautiful experience, but like all things in life requires patience, willingness to grow, and enthusiasm. Your comfort zone will be pushed beyond limits, and you will hardly recognize yourself when you get back. This can be good or bad. Despite all that happened, I came out stronger and wiser. I’d do it over again if I had, just maybe not with so many mistakes!

In the words of the great matriarch, Beyoncé, I can do anything! I am now able to travel by myself at ease, and more comfortable in who I am. There is an entire frontier of the world that awaits, and I embrace the challenge with open arms. If you’re mad with wanderlust, curious about other worlds, or just looking to get away from your campus life and into something new…. try study abroad. You won’t regret it.

That’s all for now colligates! I think I will make more of this series. As a black girl, navigating towns abroad with few minorities is a challenge, so perhaps I can talk about that in my next article. There is also a lot to know to get prepared for your trip, from the visa process to buying insurance. Look for the next part soon!

Makeda Phillips is a writer with too many dreams to count. Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, she attempts to weave humor, integrity, and beauty through her work. Her poems have been published in Vox Teen Newspaper, GSU's Underground, The Wren's Nest's teen journal Smoke Signals, Georgia's Best Emerging Poets, Northumbria University's magazine The Edge, and her first play, 2.97, was produced by the Northumbria Drama Society in Newcastle, England. Makeda is currently studying English and Art History at Georgia State University. She plans to take over the world upon graduation, or whatever people do with their degrees nowadays.
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