Study Abroad: Expectation vs. Reality

Studying abroad ended up being one of the best, most rewarding, experiences of my life. I got to travel to many countries, see different cultures, and learn about myself. I came back with a new perspective on my life goals and a realization that I would forever have a constant itch to travel the world.

While some parts of study abroad were better than expected, there were other aspects that I did not expect and I had to quickly adjust to them.

Since some of you are probably in the process of preparing for the spring semester study abroad I thought I would share some of my experiences, both positive and negative, that ended up being a reality check while I was abroad.


Expectation: I expected travel to be pretty cheap and to take trains everywhere. I had always heard that was the main way to get between countries in Europe and that it could be really cheap if you were flexible.

Reality: Trains were extremely expensive. The only time I used the train was one very early ride to Brussels and a few times within France. Ouigo was really the only cheap train company I found and the route was very limited. Ouigo is the same company as Ouibus which was the main mode of transportation I used. Buses and even flights were cheaper than the trains which was very surprising to me. Most of my trips were flights and, if you weren’t picky, they could be extremely cheap, especially if you were hopping from country to country, not making round trips.


Expectation: I expected to spend money mostly when I arrived in Europe and pretty evenly throughout my time there. I expected the monthly charges such as rent, phone, and a transportation card. And I had saved up for all of my travel.

Reality: Most of this panned out, however, I spent way more money before I even left the U.S. than I ever expected to spend. Random costs kept popping up such as costs associated with getting a visa, my residence in France, French social security, etc. Be prepared to spend a lot of money before you even leave the country on stuff for which you will probably never see tangible benefits.


Expectation: Honestly, I expected to be a bit overwhelmed by homesickness. I was worried that it would ruin my study abroad experience.

Reality: It was not nearly as bad as I expected. I definitely had homesickness which I discussed previously in another article (here) but I was able to mostly overcome it by staying in communication with family and friends back home (discussed here) and by continuously planning my next adventure.  

Overall Experience

Expectation: Although everyone seems to say that study abroad is a life-changing, awesome experience I never thought I would be one of those people. I knew I would like it but not to the extent of running around telling everyone that it was a great experience and that I want to go back right now.  

Reality: It was a great experience. One that I am very grateful that I got to have and one that I would love to have again. Not every moment was wonderful, there was days, even weeks, where I was lonely and felt like my experience was not as great as other people’s experiences. BUT there were more days, weeks, even months when I was out exploring, trying new things, and seeing places I never dreamed of seeing that made the overall experience well worth it.

Overall, I would highly recommend studying abroad (I say this to literally anyone who will listen). You definitely should not go thinking everything will be exactly as you planned or thinking that every day will be an adventure and you won’t have any boring days where you miss home. Your plan will get messed up and you will miss home at some point, but don’t let that stop you!

Take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad while you can, but always remember to keep your expectations at bay and reality in mind.