The Daily Gamecock

What I talk about when I talk about ... Studying Abroad

About a year ago, I was settling into my room in university housing in London. I would go on to spend the next few months getting to know my peers from all around the globe, traveling to as many places as I could afford and, yes, actually studying occasionally.

Some of you might be starting this very journey of studying abroad; others might be considering it for the future or thinking back on those early days of anxious exhilaration. If you're thinking about it, do it. If money is a problem, the university has scholarships you can apply for to help make it happen. I'll talk a little more about money later, but for the moment, I can promise you that the experience will be worth the price.

But this isn't my testimony about the constant joy of studying abroad, because frankly, my five months on another continent were not a montage of laughter and metro rides with new friends and extraordinary foreign cities. There were plenty of all those things, but there were also plenty of nights that I spent in my chilly, cinder-block room alone, binging Netflix or calling my mom or crying because I was inexpressibly lonely. 

Some of this I can attribute to the facts that homesickness comes easily to me and that I had no friends from USC who were at the same university. But loneliness, feelings of estrangement from family, even FOMO for your friends back home, are all part of studying abroad. Being far away from home, potentially in a place where your native language is not predominantly spoken, is challenging and scary.

Studying abroad is different from other big life changes because it's inherently, intensely temporary. Even graduating from USC in a few months and finding a job doesn't scare me in the same way that leaving for London did in the weeks before my departure. When you move for a job or for your family, you're generally planning to make the destination your home. But when you study abroad, your days are automatically numbered. Wherever you go, however much you might fall in love with the place, will probably not become home. (Although, don't rule it out entirely, because I dream of moving back to London for more than just a few months.)

Despite the difficult parts, however, studying abroad is one of the best things you can do in your college career. It's a little bit like dating someone whom you know isn't going to be a long-term relationship, but who will be a lot of fun for the brief time you're together. Making friends from all over the world, exploring glorious cities like Budapest and Prague and Edinburgh, learning how to be strong on your own — these are the things that are worth every hard night.

Here are a couple tips for your semester:

— Go to the awkward meet-ups for international students, because you might actually make a good friend at one of them.

— Leave your apartment or campus at least a few times a week for something other than class.

— Go to class. Professors and classmates from other countries will get you thinking about the content and the world in a totally different way.

— Exploring your host city alone can be a bigger adventure than going with a group.

— Ask for more money if you need it. And don't be afraid to make it a loan; you can pay back your parents or other cool family members later.

— Reach out to those who love you. Cry on the phone to your best friend at 2 a.m. because you miss her and your cat and everything from home. There is no shame in that.

Advice from other students who have been there — and everywhere:

"Make sure you spend enough time in your new home. You don't need to  travel every weekend. I didn't realize how much I would miss Torino and  all of its little intricacies until after I was home for a couple weeks.  Find out what makes your new home special, and experience it. That's what makes your study abroad experience unique." — Zachary Ohanesian, fourth-year finance student, studied in Torino, Italy.

"Remember that you are living in that country, not just vacationing so it’s okay if not every day brings you an amazing new adventure or if you need to stay in for a night and FaceTime a friend or something. Don’t compare your average day to someone else’s social media, because that’s their highlight reel. It might get lonely, and that’s okay. Also, I highly highly recommend journaling, blogging or finding another way to document and reflect on your experiences. I got so much more out of my experience this way and was able to make big changes in lifestyle and perspective because I took the time to do this." — Julia Schweiss, fourth-year marketing and GSCOM student, studied in Florianopolis, Brazil. 

"I wish I had known how fast time would go by and to really embrace all of the opportunities and people that came my way!" — Gabby Ball, fourth-year international business and accounting student, studied in Copenhagen, Denmark.


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