Worth the Wait: A Study Abroad Experience

This spring, University of California, Irvine student Shirelle Chalamish spent a semester studying abroad in Madrid and Rome. For this week’s post, Shirelle takes us through the many stages of adjusting to life abroad.

There’s nothing like the rush you get when you’re finally able to tell your friends and family that you’ve been accepted to your desired study abroad program. Everything about your life, the way you view the remaining days you have left in your home country, how you speak to those you love transforms because of this impending life change. You suddenly find yourself trying to savor every moment, every daily task or interaction, just to gain a mental snapshot of what you’re leaving behind. Even packing, a task you’ve gotten more used to since moving away for college, has suddenly become a nearly impossible task. But you’re leaving, you’re going to explore a new society and culture, and every aspect of this new adventure (even the harder parts) is completely worth it.

And then, after all this time, you’re finally there. You don’t know how you got to this moment as quickly as you did, but it’s happened. Having just arrived from the airport, you now sit in the taxi, or metro, or bus looking out at this new city, this new life that you’ve managed to plop yourself into. As you stare at this new place, ready to take it by storm, you notice that everything that once was completely in English—advertisements, names of businesses, even graffiti is now in a completely different language. While this sight may initially shock you, you end up realizing that it’s all completely normal. You just can’t shake the feeling that, for the first time in your life, you’re the odd one out.

The good news is that this feeling— that you’re in your own special version of the Twilight Zone— doesn’t last forever. As you gradually settle into your apartment, go through the proper orientations and “firsts” in this new country, you slowly begin to create your own groove. You learn that even though the cashier at the local supermarket doesn’t speak a drop of English, you can still communicate by smiles, hand gestures, and your far from perfect use of her native language. You learn that sitting on the Metro 2 line for half an hour takes you directly to the city center, which is only fifteen minutes more and thirty euros less than if you’d taken an Uber. You learn which spots to frequent for breakfast or lunch by trying every and any restaurant near school. And most of all, you learn that while living abroad can be completely new and scary, the only way you can survive is if you put all your energy into trying. You find that you’re much more capable of surviving and even thriving than you had ever thought.

You see, studying abroad was never going to start off as that Lizzie McGuire adventure you’d spent hours dreaming about before you left. Rather, you’ll have a lot of growing and adjusting to do before that dream can come true. You first have to go through the awkward stages of reconciling who you were before you left with who you’ll naturally become in this new environment. You have to accept that you’re going to make mistakes and that making them is the only tool you have to improve your understanding of this unfamiliar culture. And finally, you have to realize that this new and sometimes awkward experience is what you signed up for, even though it’s far from anything you’d imagined it would be. Because once you’ve undergone and overcome this internal struggle you can come out a stronger and better human being—and that’s when you start to live your Lizzie McGuire experience. And trust me, it’s worth the wait.

-Shirelle Chalamish (UC-Madrid and Rome Spring 2017 Program)

Did this post inspire you to embark upon your own study abroad adventure? Use the ACCENT Program Finder to discover your options: http://accentintl.com/find-a-program/.

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