This week, a University of California student taking part on this fall’s “All Roads Lead to Rome” program shares with us how her expectations prior to arriving abroad differed from the reality of living almost halfway across the globe.
Expectation: Studying abroad can be a scary experience that takes some getting used to.
Reality: This one is a little true! I was so incredibly nervous before leaving to study abroad. Even though I had no concrete fears that I could discern, I still grew more and more anxious as my departure date drew nearer. However, as soon as I landed, it became clear that those feelings of stress and apprehension were really just a mix of anticipation and uncertainty. Anxiety and excitement often have the same physiological effects, and so differentiating between the two is difficult. This is especially true before you embark on a semester-long journey to a country you have never been to. Looking back, I wish I could tell my past self to just chill out, enjoy those last few moments with family, and to not pack a single pair of heels because you will absolutely never wear them in a city that is ninety-percent cobblestone streets.
Surprisingly enough, the things that were the most jarring to adjust to were the mundane: getting into a routine, learning where to shop, making friends, and generally not getting lost every time I tried to navigate without Google Maps. Luckily, I already had experience adjusting to all of these things as a freshman in college. I was so caught up in adjusting to what I thought was a completely new routine, but then I realized that it was something that I had already done. All I had to do was remind myself, and then I was set.
Expectation: Studying abroad is all about having fun and not about working hard.
Reality: A little bit of both. Before classes started, I had a seemingly endless amount of free time to wander around Rome and take in all of the major tourist attractions. However, once classes started, I actually had to devote time every day to completing readings and studying. This was a welcome change of pace, in fact, because I do not do well with too much unstructured free time. Plus, I could do a lot worse than reading about Roman history while living in Rome and sitting in a library with its own orange grove. The classes are challenging, but also a part of the experience that I signed up for.
Expectation: You can find out what your study abroad experience will be like simply by asking your friends who have been or reading blog posts from past students (like this one).
Reality: Not to discredit everything I just wrote, but I believe this is completely false. Everyone’s study abroad experience will be different, and that difference can be attributed to what each person individually contributes to their own experiences. The ACCENT staff consistently told me that I would get out of my study abroad experience exactly what I put in; that is to say, I am solely responsible for and capable of controlling the quality of my time abroad. Coming into the program, I did not have any clear expectations of what I wanted to gain from my time here. What I quickly learned was that I would have to develop a set of personal goals and guidelines and adhere to them in order to make the most of my time in Rome. My goals were to develop my own independence, and try to immerse myself into a new and different culture. One of the ways in which I attempted to implement these goals during my time abroad was by applying for babysitting positions. The family that eventually hired me has now become one of my favorite parts of Rome. Babysitting allowed me to be more independent because it is something that I did alone, and it allowed me to form a connection with a community outside the program, which made me feel more connected to Rome as a whole. Also, I could actually afford my weekly gelato runs without going into debt. Essentially, I had to conduct some internal reflection in order to determine what mattered most to me, and to remind myself why I came to Rome in the first place. Once I was able to tap into that, it gave meaning and guidance to everything else I was doing.
When you are placed into stressful or foreign situations, you are forced to confront aspects of your identity that you might have taken for granted when you were safe inside your comfort zone. For me, freshman year of college presented an opportunity to cultivate a new image of myself because, for the first time in my life, I was surrounded by people who hadn’t known me since the age of five. While studying abroad, I have found this new identity being tested. Removed from my comfort zone back at school and placed in unfamiliar territory, I have found myself reevaluating aspects of my personality that I had only just recently developed. So far, this process has been the most unique and rewarding part of studying abroad. Now, I can allow myself to be shamelessly passionate about obscure historical facts and I can unabashedly freak out every time I walk by the Largo Argentina because that is where Julius Caesar actually died. I am realizing that I am capable of living abroad and that, maybe, I am self-sufficient enough to allow my future career to lead me there. I grew and changed so much throughout my freshman year of college, and I am so grateful that I have been granted this opportunity abroad to experience this same type of evolution. Studying abroad is teaching me, slowly but surely, to embrace parts of myself that I may not have been able to cultivate had I stayed at home.
Did this post inspire you to study abroad and build your own unique experience in a new country? Use the ACCENT Program Finder to discover your next great adventure: http://accentintl.com/find-a-program/.