5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Studying Abroad

I think it is safe to say that most people tend to have wildly different study abroad experiences.  Before studying abroad, I would scroll through my social media, feeling pangs of jealousy, looking at the amazing pictures of friends who seemed like they were having the best of times.  So, when it was my turn to take the adventure of a lifetime, living and studying in London for four months, I had this whole vision of what I was positive my study abroad experience would be like.  I imagined feeling confident and amazing and so sure of myself, traveling the world and never wanting to come home.  Little did I know, studying abroad would turn out to be completely different from what I had spent months and months dreaming it up to be. And when I asked others about the things they learned, I knew I wasn’t alone in feeling differently about study abroad than I did when I first found out I would be going to London. Don’t get me wrong, I would never trade my experience for the world, but there are things I definitely wish I had known before studying abroad...

It Is Okay To Have Bad Days

While the majority of your time abroad will probably be amazing and unforgettable, it is important to remember that there are going to be bad days.  There might even be a bad couple of weeks.  You hit mid-semester and you start missing your family and getting serious FOMO seeing pictures of your friends back home and you just start to feel like time might be dragging along.  Four months is a very long time to fill every single day with crazy adventures, especially considering you are there for school, and homework will still pile up.  Allow yourself to stay in every now and then if you are feeling burnt out.  Call your parents or your friends and don’t be afraid to tell them how much you miss them.  It made me realize how much I appreciate the people at home.  And remember that these bad days will make the good days that much better.  They forced me to take a deep breath and slow down every now and then, and they taught me how important it is to take things one day at a time.

Budgeting Your Money Is Way Easier Said Than Done

When you put your card into the ATM and the machine spits out a different currency than you’re used to, it almost feels like you are dealing with Monopoly money!  You forget that every five pounds (British currency) you spend at the local coffee shop for your morning latte and scone is actually over seven US dollars, and the money in your account is quickly dwindling away.  I started out tracking all of my spending.  But after a few weeks, I dropped out of the habit.  I began to realize that this was a once in a lifetime experience, and the thought of missing out on something incredible because I was so worried about staying within my budget just wasn’t going to cut it.  Now, I am not saying to go out and blow hundreds of dollars at the clubs or on some pricey French designer handbag…those types of things you can budget for.  But, when it comes to doing things and seeing things, you can’t put a price tag on adventure!  Some people may not agree with me, but I would rather have to work a little extra hard to build up the bank again back in the States than miss an opportunity to wander the enchanting streets of Prague for spring break.  #WorthIt

If Your Tour Guide Says Don’t Wear Heels On The Pub Crawl, DON’T WEAR HEELS ON THE PUB CRAWL

This one is pretty straight forward, but the advice can be translated for any occasion.  You are going to have tips and tricks to study abroad survival being thrown at you left and right from people who are from the place where you are studying, and if I can tell you anything, it would be to listen to them and to trust them.  They are there to help you and they want you to feel at home and to have the best experience possible.  They want you to have fun and do amazing things, but they also want to ensure you are happy and safe doing just that!  SO, when your tour guides advise you that the cobblestone streets you will be drunkenly wandering through later on the Pub Crawl you signed up for are NOT high heel friendly, my goodness, listen to them.  Otherwise, you’ll be hobbling around your city with one shoe on and one foot clad in a pink Hello Kitty sock, because both feet just couldn’t bear the pain any longer! (Embarrassingly true story.)

You’re Not Going To Get To Everything On Your Abroad Bucket List

While it may seem like four months is a super long time to do everything on your bucket list for studying abroad, you will be surprised to find that you might not even get to half of the things on your list!  But don’t feel upset.  Your host city is going to introduce you to amazing things.  Every day will bring you new adventures and the things on your priority list will definitely change.  For me, London was a massive city with limitless things to do.  I went to places and did things that I didn’t even know existed before going abroad and I absolutely loved that about it.  It is also important to remember that, while traveling to other countries is extremely affordable, consider reserving a decent amount of weekends to explore your own city!  You will be amazed to discover how much there will be to do and you will have a much stronger appreciation for the city you chose to call home for a few months. 

Nothing Can Really Prepare You For Study Abroad

Well, I hate to burst my own confident bubble, but I can honestly say that there is nothing that could have prepared me for living in another country for four months.  No Buzzfeed article listing the best foods and best places to see, no blog post taking me step by step through a friend’s weekend trips to Spain; nothing is going to really help you understand what studying abroad is like until you are actually doing it yourself.  I thought I was going to waltz off the plane and make my way around the massive city of London like I had lived there all my life, but I learned quite quickly that this would not be the case.  I was in a new city, surrounded by new people and new cultures and even new languages, and I felt like a baby learning how to walk for the first time.  It was stressful, but also so exciting.  Studying abroad is the definition of a new start.  You learn how to be independent and to stand on your own two feet in this big world.  

When people tell you that studying abroad will change your life, take that to heart.  Those four months were the four most challenging, yet rewarding months of my entire life.  I learned to embrace every day as an opportunity to grow, whether it was through my successes or through my failures.  Studying abroad is not going to be a flawless experience.  There will be things that you do that you will love, and there will be things that you go through that you might hate.  Every step of the way you are learning something new and that, I believe, is the beauty of it all!  So, I hope that you study-abroad-hopefuls are just as excited for your journey as you were before reading this article, and I hope your experience becomes everything you make it to be.  Do fun things, go to new places, take some deep breaths, and don’t forget to not wear heels on the pub-crawl. 


Image credit: All photos are author's own.