5 Common Misconceptions About Study Abroad

Part of the beauty of study abroad is that you have no idea exactly what it’s going to be like. The experience is brand new and you’re exploring a whole new world! But sometimes it may seem like everyone around you has a grand idea of what it’s going to be like. And believe it or not, once those ideas are in your head, they can actually shape your experience after you arrive.


“You’ll just pick up the language when you get there!!”

Okay, I’ll just say right off the bat that anyone who tells you this has never learned a new language. Before I came to Buenos Aires for my study abroad experience, I had spent 5 semesters studying Spanish—that’s 2.5 years—and it still wasn’t enough! When I got off that plane I did not understand anything from anyone and when someone would try to speak to me, my mind would go completely blank.

I’m not trying to scare you—it gets much easier over time. And with the language constantly all around you, you will start to find that you get used to its rhythm and it comes more naturally. But do not make the mistake of showing up in a foreign country and expecting to learn an unfamiliar language via osmosis.


“You’ll be fluent by the time you come back!”

Once again, who comes up with this stuff?? With my 2.5 years of studying Spanish and my roughly 2.5 months of immersion and daily practice in real-life settings, I can tell you I still have a long way to go before I would call myself fluent.

This is another trick! You should not expect that in a 5 or 6-month period you will achieve total mastery of a second language! Of a whole new way of thinking!! No. Let yourself get everything you can out of the experience, learn new vocab, talk to locals, go to language clubs, watch novellas—but let’s be reasonable here, ok?


“It will be the time of your life!”

This is a comment that you will definitely get from a lot of well-meaning family and friends. And they’re partially right! You have access to an incredible learning opportunity. You get to experience what life is like for other people in other parts of the world. But while everyone says this with the best of intentions, comments like this can actually set you up for disappointment.

When preparing yourself for study abroad, remember that you need to have an open-mind and an open-heart. All over the world, people are a product of their environment. Even if they’re different than you are. It is important to remember that as you encounter the world, as you come across things that are dirty or smelly or strange, you must remind yourself that it is not better or worse than home—it’s just different.

The point of your journey is not simply to have an amazing time. Things will not always be fun. Sometimes they will be boring, at times you will be exhausted, and some days you will feel lonely. If you constantly put pressure on yourself to be having “the time of your life,” you may find yourself anxious and disappointed.


“You won’t ever want to come home!”

I understand why people might want to stay for a second semester after their study abroad experience comes to an end. Personally, I can’t imagine how much my language skills would improve if I stayed in Argentina for a full academic year rather than just a semester.

Nonetheless, there are a lot of things to think about when you change your plans in such a big way. If you decide to stay, you may have to go through the application process again. You have to change your flight. You have to make sure your housing will still be available. You have to check with your visa requirements. You have to make sure staying doesn’t disrupt your degree plan.

But honestly... I miss my dogs!! I want to see my mom! I’m missing my little sister’s high school graduation to be here! I am so thankful for this trip, and I am loving it, but I will still be happy to go home.


“It’s so dangerous! Aren’t you scared?”

This is kind of an annoying comment to me personally, but I can see where people come from with this one. Argentina is a “third-world” country. Ok, fine, whatever. However, for the most part, the rules of navigating the city of Buenos Aires are the same as in any other big city. You shouldn’t draw too much attention to yourself. Always keep your purse in front of you where you can see it, especially in the subway. You shouldn’t walk around by yourself at night. And for God’s sake, you need to know how to cross the street!

But you don’t need to be scared. I wasted a lot of time during study abroad being scared. What if they can tell I’m an American? What if I get lost? What if I don’t understand the waiter? Blah blah bla—all of this will happen!! If you look white, strangers will walk up to you and start speaking to you in English! But it’s not the end of the world. People are people. If you don’t want to talk, it’s as simple as saying “no, gracias,” avoiding eye contact and continuing on your way. Be smart, don’t be too flashy, don’t handle your money in front of people, and use your common sense. It will all be fine.