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Expecting the Unexpected While Studying Abroad

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Rowan chapter.

When I initially made the decision to study abroad, I viewed the experience as much more of a travelling opportunity than a learning experience. I had not realized all of the ways I matured, broadened my global perspective, and grew as a person until after my return to the United States. Despite my study abroad experience being only for a three week January Term program, the challenge of adapting to a foreign country’s customs and way of life, with the added struggle of a language barrier, was still a challenge. It compelled me to emerge from my comfort zone to fully immerse myself in the experience. However, similar to any sort of travel, there are many possible difficulties along the way. The best way to manage any sort of setback is to be aware that they can happen, and be prepared.

  1. Flight Changes: Airlines are very susceptible to change and thus extremely unpredictable. I learned this first hand when I had to catch a new flight to my layover in Madrid before arriving to Barcelona. Despite arriving to the airport hours before my original flight was planned to depart, the flight to Madrid ended up being overbooked. I quickly had to find a different route, and managed to catch a flight to London, just moments before they too were scheduled to depart. Being aware of what issues can occur with flight changes, and understanding alternate routes, can ease the burden of figuring out travel details.

  2. Lost Luggage: As if the stress of changing flights is not exhausting enough, your luggage can get caught up in the mess of transit as well. Being prepared for your luggage to be accidentally left at where you departed from or delayed in getting to your final destination can be incredibly difficult (especially if you do not listen to your mother and did not pack accordingly in your carry on). Therefore, being prepared by packing extra toiletries and clothes in your carry on can save you a lot of unnecessary aggravation and time.

  3. Language Barriers: Upon making my decision to study abroad, I very naively assumed that my barely conversational, elementary level understanding of the Spanish language would be able to help me while abroad. Imagine my shock when I arrived and could not even remotely understand anything that was said to me other than “bathroom”, “food”, and “dog.” Learning how to order food, navigate public transportation, and understand directions was a challenge. However, it forced me to communicate in other ways, and forced me to learn to retain and process information in a way that has continued to help me in my life today. Studying the language and learning key phrases before going abroad will be beneficial to yourself, and will be very much appreciated by the local people.

  4. Unfamiliar Food: In the United States, food varies depending on the part of the country you are in. This is very similar when studying abroad. You will walk into a restaurant after getting off of an eight-hour flight and will be craving a Wawa coffee or a Big Mac from McDonalds, and when you walk up to order and see food that that looks or sounds completely unfamiliar, or simply does not appear appetizing, it is easy to feel discouraged. Trying new things and stepping out of your comfort zone is a huge part of what studying abroad is all about! Trying the new food is exciting, and is even something you can incorporate into your lifestyle when you return home that will remind you of your experience abroad.

  5. Getting sick: Just my luck, I managed to get bronchitis within a few days of arriving in Spain. Fortunately, AIFS offers an on-site residential director that can help you with any issues you encounter. Not understanding Spanish, I knew I would struggle when going into a pharmacy to get what I would need. Due to my incredible residential director, I knew exactly what to look for and what questions to ask.

Oftentimes, people do not want to consider what could go wrong when traveling. Being prepared and understanding what issues could arise prevents any problems from ruining your trip. The independence and self-reliability that I developed while in Barcelona are still skills that fortunately have remained with me today. While I loved every second I spent in the classroom, I feel as though what has really been instilled within me from my time studying abroad was during moments outside of the classroom. The experiences I have, the memories I made, and the skills I learned, have truly remained with me to this day. Expecting the unexpected when studying abroad may seem scary, but also can make your time abroad feel all that more rewarding.