When I was little, I remember sitting with my friends imagining what our college lives would be like. We talked about what schools we would go to and how many friends we would make along with other fantasies we made up along the way. The possibility of studying abroad was always brought up, but I never spoke about it as I was unable to imagine studying in another country. So you can imagine my surprise when I was admitted to Northeastern’s N.U.in program which sends half of its incoming freshman class abroad for a semester.
My first year at Northeastern began alongside roughly 200 other Northeastern students who studied at the University College Dublin. Even though I had never pictured myself in this position, as I prepared to leave home I was both excited and anxious about the journey that awaited me. However, along the way, I realized that the experience wasn’t exactly what I was expecting.
Everyone talks about how amazing the study abroad experience is. They talk about how you experience a new culture, try new foods and sometimes even learn a new language. But, no one talks about the downsides of studying abroad.
I grew up in a small town in New Jersey roughly 30 minutes outside of New York City. I went to school with the same people for 12 years and everyone knew each other. With the transition from a small town to life abroad, I was out of my element. Suddenly, I had to make new friends, something I hadn’t had to do since I was five years old. I had to create an entirely new support system to lean on as my old, stable one was halfway across the world. Additionally, unlike starting at a normal school, I only had 200 options to choose from unless I made Irish friends that I would likely never see again. I soon found out that making friends wasn’t going to be as easy as I thought it would be. While I did make friends, I couldn’t help but feel isolated some of the time — the reality of being so far away from home.
The transition was also hard academically. High school is a completely different type of learning than college is, and in freshman year, you’re just getting used to the new teaching styles. In my case, I had to do this twice: once in Ireland and once in Boston. The American learning environment, I found, is also completely different from its Irish counterpart. Their grading system is on a completely different scale, which didn’t help with the transition. I found myself losing motivation as anything above a C was basically equivalent to an A in the American grading system.
Finally, the so-called best part of studying abroad, getting to travel around Europe, was not an option for me. I couldn’t leave Ireland without obtaining a visa. But with all of the international students trying to get them at the same time, my appointment didn’t come until halfway through my time in Ireland. While this could have been solved by making an appointment earlier on, one of the stipulations for making an appointment is that you are currently living in an Irish county.
Eventually, I was able to overcome all of the challenges I listed above to have a great time in my study abroad. I made new friends, passed all of my classes and even got to travel to France and Germany after obtaining my visa. I can understand the wonders of studying abroad people talk about, the fantasies my friends had discussed, but the reality of it all wouldn’t be fair to discuss without listing the negatives.