“Studying abroad changed my life.” “Going abroad was the best decision I ever made.”
These phrases are commonly heard when you hear students talk about their study aboard experiences and when they’re combined with colorfully edited Instagram posts, massive Facebook albums and VSCO pages of aesthetically pleasing cafes, it’s hard to imagine someone having anything less than the time of their life abroad. But the fact of the matter is, life studying abroad isn’t always as simple as weekend getaways and picturesque cobblestone streets. This isn’t to say that studying abroad isn’t an incredible privilege and opportunity; however, it does mean that it isn’t always the picture-perfect experience you may have imagined.
Depending on program and location, students can experience a variety of struggles, from difficult commutes to unfriendly natives to confusing transport. Basically, every difficulty that you might experience in your freshman year transition has an abroad counterpart that’s arguably even more difficult to face. For instance, instead of wandering the halls of Tribble, trying to find the B wing, you may be wandering the streets of Copenhagen, only to find that your bus is cancelled. For someone who hasn’t travelled outside of the U.S. before, these struggles can seem daunting. When you add in roommate issues and less-than-ideal housing, these obstacles can contribute to homesickness and feelings of isolation.
But here’s the thing, having these issues and emotions doesn’t make you ungrateful or oblivious to your privilege. Spending four months away from home is a fantastic opportunity that many don’t have, but it’s also more than that: it’s a challenge. It’s one thing to go a semester at Wake Forest without regularly seeing your parents, but it’s a completely different feeling knowing that you physically can’t. It can also be stressful trying to balance “once-in-a-lifetime opportunities” and your bank account. If you find yourself in another country, missing home, and struggling to “thrive” the way everyone around you seems to be doing, it’s critical not to get down on yourself and not to let your negative feelings outweigh your positive ones.
Honestly, the best thing to do is to try to see your challenges as learning experiences and opportunities for growth. Look at your situation objectively. You may feel upset or isolated, but you are also in an incredibly unique position. When you’re struggling with public transportation and your bus is thirty minutes late, look out the window, take in the scenery and remind yourself that these moments that seem so difficult are truly trivial. Being late to class may be stressful, but it’s not the end of the world. When you return home in December, you don’t want your most remembered emotion from abroad to be anxiety.
Speaking of anxiety, feelings of isolation may also contribute to your existing stress and fears about abroad. Other variables, such as weather and less sunlight can also lead to negative mood changes. It’s critical to keep up with your friends and reach out to the people, whether at home or travelling with you, that love you and can encourage you. It can seem difficult to build deep connections with people, especially if you aren’t travelling with a lot of students from your university or feel that everyone else already has strong friendships. When this happens, the only thing you can do is put yourself out there; try to attend a study event, do homework with a classmate, or grab drinks or lunch at a café. If you live far away from your campus, it can be very tempting to go straight to class and straight back to your room, just out of convenience. Try not to keep yourself in a bubble though, because almost everyone that is studying abroad is in the same position and is open to building new friendships; they’re trying to make a temporary home in a foreign country just like you. Finally, if you’re truly struggling to feel satisfied and content with your abroad experience, reach out to your study program. It’s their job to help students be comfortable, become well-adjusted and find their place in a new country. As always, never be afraid to reach out to your friends, parents, or resources at Wake Forest if you need help.
Being able to study abroad is a great opportunity. Wake Forest makes it very easy and accessible to students of varying majors and financial aid levels. However, just because studying abroad is a unique experience does not mean that it will be flawless. If you’re having a fantastic time and thriving, that’s awesome! But it’s just as valid to find yourself feeling scared or overwhelmed; the most important things are to continue learning from your experiences, growing personally, and trying to make the best of your challenges.