Some of you may be just beginning your study abroad adventure like I am (It’s my sixth day in Paris!) or some of you may be considering it while you watch your friends post beautiful photos of the Eiffel Tower, Italian castles, London buses, and amazing plates of food from all over the world.
I’d like to tell you that all six days of my adventure so far have been a Parisian paradise, but that would be a lie. I wish I could exclaim how fearless I have been the entire time, but that also would be untrue. What I can share though, are three steps I am learning to embrace to be a Fearless Protagonist abroad.
Step 1: Realize that moving to a completely new country will be difficult.
In the days and months leading up to your departure, you forget the fact that you are going to someplace completely different, where you know very few people, if any, and you may not even speak the language. Everyone has hyped up the experience, and you’re super excited. You brush aside your concerns at first, but the struggle is real once you arrive.
While I am 100% confident that study abroad is the right choice and that it will lead to so many benefits academically, professionally and personally, when reality sinks in, it is really tough.
Nothing is ever quite as you imagine it; everything is a bit less wonderful and delicious and convenient than you envisioned. In reality you have to feed yourself, find transportation, budget your money, make brand new friends, take care of your health, and, let’s not forget, study. When all of those tasks are weighing down on you, it’s going to feel pretty impossible and you’ll just want to be back at home with all the familiar things.
Step 2: Know that you’re not alone.
It’s going to be hard to step out of your comfort zone, really hard. Friends and opportunities aren’t just going to appear in front of you. You’ll be meeting all new people while simultaneously adapting to an all-new environment, and nothing is familiar.
It’s absolutely terrifying, but remember – everyone feels that way.
It’s a universally hard transition to make. Seek out the people who get what you’re going through. You’re probably not the only student studying abroad in your city. And you most likely know at least one other person from home who has studied abroad in the past. Bond over language barrier goof-ups and getting lost yet again. It’s a little less daunting when you know you’re not the only one.
The hard part here, however, is jumping over that mental hurdle where you’re stuck in the homesickness and loneliness. It’s okay to be sad sometimes; cry when you need to, but then get out there and do something!
Just being around other people in your situation and leaving your pity party will make you feel accomplished and boost your mood.
Step 3: Remember that the difficulties are part of the rewards.
After you’ve gotten lost on the metro at midnight, fallen sick without your family or friends to help you, missed your flight, and walked five hundred miles (cue the song by the Proclaimers) in a different country, you will be able to take on any challenge.
There will be problems, but you will have dealt with them, in another country, in another language, in another way of life, and that is something to put on a resume. Those are the great stories that define who you are.
Remember that you’re doing something difficult, something admirable, and something that you will treasure for the rest of your life, and all the struggles along the way are going to be worth it.