Study Abroad: Advice from Those Who've Done It
This past semester, I've had the privilege of meeting quite a few international students studying abroad at my home university, Northern Arizona University (NAU). I have learned more from them than I ever would have just attending study abroad orientation meetings. The best thing about having new foreign friends who have gone through the study abroad program is being able to ask them about their experience -- what was good, what was bad, what was hard, and what was the best part about it. Especially if you're planning on going on exchange for yourself soon -- your new international friends can help you out.
During the wrap-up of the end of the semester, most of my international friends were busy packing up the life they've known for the past several months, and lugging it back to their home countries. I was, however, able to get a few words from a couple of friends who took the time out of their busy schedules to help me better prepare for my journey come July.
My first question was, "Where are you from?" I already know this question, but I figured it would better serve you all, the audience, to know where my friends are from. Julia is from Sweden. Amy is from Australia. Both of them are comical and outstanding human beings.
After that, I asked them both why they decided to study abroad in the first place. Julia answered, "It has always been a dream of mine to study in America, so when the opportunity presented itself, I had no doubts! I had to go!" "I wanted to experience a new culture, meet new people and have new experiences in a new place. I wanted to grow and learn more about myself," Amy said. Many people have different expectations of going to a foreign country. One of the most important things to do is ask yourself what the number one goal is when you travel abroad. Whether it's solely to see the world or to grow by putting yourself out of your comfort zone, you'll always find one other person looking to do the same.
Being the nervous mess that I am, I'm freaked out about leaving for Australia in a month. Naturally, I turned to these two women for advice and asked them what advice they had for others who are planning to or are interested in studying abroad for 5+ months. Comparing both of their answers, it seemed obvious to me what their biggest problem was: TAKING THE PLUNGE. "Just do it!" "Don't hesitate." Both of these girls had an amazing time away from home. Julia added, "All the worries and doubts you may have beforehand will seem silly later." Phew. You mean to say that I'm not the only one who stressed out about leaving to another country? If you're in the same boat as me, fear not! Others have studied abroad before us and they've survived! Hallelujah!
I know that traveling brings both joy and frustration. I can remember the time when I thought I had lost my boarding pass to a flight that would be leaving in 10 minutes, and that was for a flight within the country. I can just imagine all of the things that could go wrong just flying to another country, let alone staying in said country for several months. I can only imagine how drastically things will change in such a short amount of time. I asked the two ladies what the hardest thing to do was during their time studying abroad. "It was being away from family that was the hardest," Amy replied. Julia said her most difficult moment was "saying goodbye to all [her] friends that [she] made during [her] time here." We are connected to the people who we have grown up with, as well as those we let enter our lives, even for just a short amount of time. Saying goodbye is one of the hardest things, whether you're leaving from your home country or leaving from the home you've made at your host country. The important thing to remember, no matter which situation it's for, is that it's not so much "goodbye" as it is "see you later."
To end on a happier note, I asked them: "Tell me your best memory while studying abroad." Both of them answered making memories with their new, lifelong friends. If you're afraid of not making friends while studying abroad, don't be! I have found comfort in the fact that I'm not the only one traveling to study abroad at the university I've chosen and the odds are, I'm not the only one going to be looking for friends. You won't be either.