Ten Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before Studying Abroad

Imman Merdanovic
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I remember the very first time I packed up my bags and ventured on a solo trip abroad. I had no idea where I was headed or what it was going to be like, but I knew I had to do it. And to think that six years later, I am still carrying those same bags and pursuing the same dream I started as a fifteen-year-old…

My wanderlust has taken me from the flowery roads of Amsterdam and the desserts of Dubai. From the forests of Zimbabwe to the lights of New York City. I have made my home in places I had no idea existed, and even though my study abroad journey practically never ended, I have learned from it more than any class could ever teach me.

So, before you take off in pursuit of your dreams, take a moment to read my list of 10 things I wish I somebody had told me before studying abroad. It might not change the world, but it sure will rock yours! 

1. No matter how much has changed in your life, things at home will, for the most part, remain the same.

This, my friends, is what often leads to a lot of frustration. We tend to think that because of all the cool things that we are experiencing abroad, the world must be changing as well. We’re excited to come back home and tell people about everything that had just happened, in fact— we feel this desire to REPEAT EVERY SINGLE STORY TWICE, BECAUSE HAVE I ALREADY TOLD YOU ABOUT MEETING MY PARENTS IN DENMARK FOR CHRISTMAS??? But the reality is different. Peoples’ lives at home have not changed much— your parents are still rocking that same old routine, your best friend is still crying over that same ugly breakup and your neighbor is still a terrible singer. And suddenly, your entire experience seems like a distant dream.

2. Once you activate the ‘wanderlust bug,’ you will always be on the go.

When you taste the beauty of travel, your life will pretty much become all about finding cheap flights (let me know if you need help with this one)! You will constantly want to widen your horizons and go somewhere new. And let's be real, even the thought of traveling raises your adrenaline levels. Oh wait, go check CheapOair real quick!

3.You will constantly compare your culture to all the new cultures you encounter, and that’s normal.

Wait, so you are saying that burping after a meal is acceptable here? You will constantly search for both the good and the bad in both cultures, in an attempt to create your own set of rules and manners that you find to be more desirable. At the end, you will live life according to your own principles which you have created by fusing the old and the new.  Oh, and talk about being cosmopolitan…

4. Culture shock is real and it never really ends. 

It starts at the departure terminal and it hardly ever ends. And right when you think you familiarized yourself with all aspects of your host culture, life throws something new at you and good-old culture shock brings you back to where you started. Trust me, it has been six years and I am just as confused. What changes, however, is how you deal with it. 

5. Good experiences are created when you step out of your comfort zone. 

Do not lock yourself in a bubble of any kind. Do not only hang out with people who come from the same country as you just because it feels good. It might be easier, as they understand you better, but what is the point of studying abroad then? Go out there, talk your heart out, make mistakes in a foreign language and learn. If I can pronounce ‘error’ and ‘squirrel,’ you, too, can accomplish whatever you heart desires.

6. Seek help when and where you need it.

You’ll be surprised with how willing people are to help. You are young and on your own, so do not hesitate to ask for help. Free shuttles to the airport? Yes, please. 

7. Do not camouflage your identity just to fit in. Be bold and stand out. 

This was a big one for me! I tried to fit in so much that, at a certain point, I started getting detached from my real self. Accept who you are and use your identity to your advantage. You are different, you are cool and you do not need to become someone else for people to like you. 

Embrace your accent- do not run away from it. Instead, let it remind you of who you really are. It’s fun, it’s silly and it’s you.

8. Call your parents. 

They worry about you. They think about you ALL the time. They think something bad is happening to you even if all you do is binge-watch Netflix. Need I say more? CALL THEM.

9. You will always have to be better than ‘average'.

Remember, you are a guest, so it would be nice to represent yourself and your country in the best light here. Now is your time to shine, so study a little harder. It will not go unnoticed. 

10. You can always come back. 

We often forget how easy it is to return back home. It is important to try something new. The worst that can happen is for you to realize that the program was not the best fit. But please, be courageous and give it a try first. 

I wish you best of luck abroad and remember- you can always come back!