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The Highs and Lows You’re Likely to Experience Abroad

A semester abroad, most always referred to as the time of your life, is not always as perfect as everyone thinks. Yes, you will make memories and meet people that you will cherish forever, and you will also have more fun than you ever thought possible.  But you also will experience some pretty dark times while you’re away from home for such an extended period of time. Filled with both highs and lows, the adjustment curve everyone goes through perfectly explains why, even if you are the happiest you have ever been in your life, you might also have an uncontrollable urge to cry.  No need to worry though–these feelings are completely normal!

Phase One: Honeymoon

You are busy exploring everything your host country has to offer, so you might go a little crazy celebrating your newfound freedom–especially where alcohol is concerned (lower drinking age!)–but it’s all part of the experience. The crazy fun times cannot be stopped, and you feel infinite.  And how cool is it that while all of your friends are back home, you get to live in a foreign country? At this point, you never want to leave; you can actually imagine yourself living in your host country forever, whether that means never going home or moving back whenever you get the chance.  Either way, you and this country have a relationship that nobody can break!

Phase Two: Culture Shock

This phase usually occurs at the two month mark after arriving in your foreign country. The extreme excitement you felt when you first arrived is long gone, and now it is replaced by culture shock.  You wonder why it didn’t hit you at first, but you were too busy wrapped up in the novelty of it all to notice.  You begin to fall into a daily pattern, and that sort of normality can get a bit boring at times. Your lifestyle mellows out, and the aspects of your host country that once amazed you now don’t seem all that special.  You are just living your life, and it just so happens to be in a foreign country.

Phase Three: Initial Adjustment

You’ve finally learned how to speak at least the bare minimum of your host country’s language as well as how to follow the social customs of your host country. You are growing quite comfortable with how well you can handle yourself on your own and how little you rely on other foreigners.  It seems like nothing can bring you down, and you are at the peak point of happiness.

Phase Four: The Plunge

This is the time where you will experience varying degrees of sadness, happiness, anger, stress, and joy all in the same day.  You miss your friends and family back home and it’s hard to see life going on without you there.  You miss your old lifestyle more than you thought you would, and Skype calls with your parents are the best things in the world. You might be going through deep personal issues as well as adjustment issues, and all you really want is a little piece of home here with you.

Phase Five: Assimilation

As soon as it dawns on you that you will be going back home soon, you instantly regret all the days you spent moping around being home sick.  You try to squeeze in the last bits of fun that you can, and you do everything to truly experience your host country customs.  At this point, you have gained a new sense of appreciation for the life you have had during your time in your host country, and you would give anything just to be able to stay a while longer, because you know that back home you are going to have some serious withdrawals. 

Samantha is a Senior English writing and rhetoric major at St. Edward's University in Austin, Texas. She just got back to America after studying abroad for a semester in Angers, France. On top of writing for Her Campus, Samantha is a teaching assistant for freshman writing classes and a news reporter/ social media editor for Hilltop Views, her campus newspaper. Follow her on twitter @samanthdriscoll and instagram @sdrisco.
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