What they don’t teach you at Study Abroad Orientation

Elizabeth Polsdofer

Studying abroad is an undergraduate experience more and more undergraduates are fitting into their college experience more than ever. Students have many options, from doing study abroad “shorts” that last as little as two weeks, to programs that last the entire academic year.

At Iowa State, if you choose to study abroad, which you should, you will have a helpful and experienced adviser who can answer any question you have about finances and language barriers. However, what is not in your pamphlet about studying abroad is almost as important as what is.

1. Men and women are not automatically super attractive because they have an accent.

As seen in “Love Actually,” we as Americans are obsessed with sexy accents and so the idea of going to these exotic lands with sexy accents is a lot like going to a heaven filled with nothing but Hugh Lauries and Daniel Radcliffes talking all day all the time. This myth takes a surprisingly quick time to dissolve when you realize that the creepers you left behind in the United States have a foreign equivalent.

2. It changes your life if you do it properly.

There will be people studying abroad who treat their time there like a very long extended vacation. The reason why study abroad has such as impact on students is that even if they treat it like a vacation, it still leaves a large impression as something that was very positive in their life. If you don’t act like it’s a vacation and take your time abroad seriously, your time there will impact you in more positive ways that just a good memory.

3. Not everything about your life and personality changes overnight.

A lot of people study abroad thinking they can be an entirely new person when their time begins there. What most people don’t realize is they don’t change overnight, and you can’t wake up and make yourself and entirely different person overnight. In fact, you’ll more likely than not have an identity crisis and scream, “This isn’t me!” if you try too hard to change overnight.

4. You develop a second life.

When you study abroad you leave your life in the United States and create another life abroad with new people, new routines and new places. Although these changes are overwhelming at first, you learn how to adjust and develop a new normal.

A difficult point about studying abroad is talking about your life abroad with people who have stayed in the United States, since when you talk about missing your abroad life, people who haven’t been abroad make the mistake of believing you prefer your abroad life to your home life. A lot of people struggle with these differences, and some handle it by forgetting they ever studied abroad because their abroad life seems too much like a dream.

The term “reverse culture shock” doesn’t just refer to getting used to your old way of life again; it’s about integrating your study abroad life with your home life.

5. You leave with two homes.

No one prepares you for how much where you study abroad at becomes your home. Study abroad is not a vacation; it’s a home you have away from home when you learn about the world, and when you leave this place, you will become homesick for it.

You’ll want to go back to the old places you used to be, see friends you used to spend hours with who are scattered across the world and live your old life. It never stops becoming your home, even if you never go back since there’s such an intimate familiarity and experience with your study abroad home.

6. You will miss the people the most, not the places.

When people think of studying abroad in Rome they think of the architecture, or when they think of studying abroad in China, they think of the Great Wall, so the most surprising thing is how much the people who you meet when you’re abroad really impact your life.

You don’t leave thinking, “I wish I had seen the Eiffel Tower more,” or “If I could only spend another day at the ruins of Machu Picchu,” but “I wish I had spent more time with my friends.”

Studying abroad teaches you the most important lesson you could learn being an international student: it’s not about where you’re at, it’s the people you’re with.

7. It goes by too fast.

Even at the beginning of year or semester long programs it seems like you’re going to abroad for a long time, but when it’s over it seems like yesterday you started. People you know who have studied abroad tell you this all the time, but it never sinks in until it’s too late, and you wish you could go back in time and warn yourself about this until you’re blue in the face.

Enjoy every second of your time abroad because when it’s over you wish you would have spent every moment you were upset or sleeping doing something amazing.