Studying abroad — a scary thought to some and an exciting opportunity to others.
For me, the idea of studying abroad was a topic that I had dreamed about from a young age.
Growing up, I couldn’t wait to go to college so that I could study abroad in a new country. I would talk about it with everyone, and I made sure to include it in my bio on the Class of 2025 Facebook page.
My dreams finally came true this past June when I got the opportunity to go to Barcelona, Spain, for a month with the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. I only had the highest hopes before venturing across the Atlantic, but, after arriving, I realized there were a lot of things I wasn't prepared for.
Unsurprisingly, it’s a large adjustment living in the United States versus living in a European country, but I didn’t realize just how difficult it would be at first.
Many students experience a harsh transition when entering a new country for their study abroad trip, knowing that they have to adjust to a new lifestyle and culture for the foreseeable future. When I arrived in Barcelona, the combined feelings of homesickness and jet lag made it a tough start.
“I remember the first day I got there I just cried, and I took a nap and I fell asleep for what felt like hours," said Logan Richter, a third-year international studies student. "It was the worst day ever.”
Richter studied abroad in Florence, Italy, last spring. He said things felt off for him for about the first three weeks of his semester abroad.
He had wanted to study abroad since he was in middle school, and he said it was hard for him to grasp the idea that it wasn’t everything he had imagined. He said the narrow streets in Italy caused him to feel claustrophobic at times, and it was an overwhelming adjustment.
“One of the biggest things is culture shock. You're just used to doing things a certain way, so when you get to the new country there's a period where everything's exciting," Elizabeth Cooper, an education abroad advisor at USC, said. "After a couple weeks, you kind of go back into your shell a little bit because it's not what you're used to."
When I first arrived in Barcelona, everything was new and fun and we were so busy trying new things, but when it hit the second week there, where you fall into a routine a bit more, I started to notice just how different my day-to-day life was.
For example, I love being able to drive and listen to my music on full blast and not have to worry about anything until I get to my destination. But in Barcelona, we rode the metro everywhere and that was the standard there. We realized that Europeans rely mostly on forms of public transportation to get around, so you’re constantly surrounded by people. This was definitely something that took time to get used to.
Richter described a similar experience and said his time abroad began to turn positive when he got the chance to explore more of Europe. He said this was the reason he began to love his new life in Italy.
“What I realized when I came back to Florence was I had this feeling of, 'Oh, I’m happy to be back here. It feels like home now,'” Richter said.
Traveling to new places is one of the top benefits of studying abroad because, in Europe, most of the major cities are only a train or bus ride away from each other. This makes you well-versed in other communities and helps you meet people you could only dream of encountering.
During my second week in Barcelona, my friends and I took a bus to the coastal city of Tossa de Mar. This short trip was one of the highlights of my time abroad because I got to experience the differences between the bustling city of Barcelona and the slow beach town that was Tossa de Mar. It was a nice break from reality and what made it so cool was that it was a last minute trip that we probably wouldn't have gone on if we hadn't already been in Barcelona.
That kind of travel builds a close-knit community with people in your program. You begin to create shared experiences with groups you travel with because you are all in the same boat, trying something new.
Being in a forced environment where you are constantly around people pushes you out of your comfort zone. And when you put yourself out there, you start to feel like you are meant to be where you are.
Adapting to a new culture is something that everyone goes through. Once you begin to meet locals and find places of comfort, you’ll be in a much better mindset.
Cooper said students should take action while abroad to help ease the stress of making friends. Since you’re so far out of your comfort zone and in an unfamiliar place, going the extra mile to meet new people may be pushed to the bottom of your to-do list.
Many universities in other countries have “buddy programs” where you get paired up with a local student who can help you adjust to the new environment and introduce you to new people.
“If you kind of put yourself out there and make yourself comfortable with being uncomfortable, it really pays off in the end," Cooper said.
In my own experience, once I found a group of people that I enjoyed doing things with and that I knew had my back, it made my abroad experience more fulfilling. If I had sights I wanted to see, or activities I wanted to do, I knew there would always be at least one person that would be down to do it with me.
We all had the same mindset that we may never be back in Barcelona, so we had to make the most of every day. This led me to experience things I never would have if I confined myself to my comfort zone, and I am grateful for these moments every day, even four months later.
Richter said the biggest piece of advice he would give to someone studying abroad is to try as many new things as you can.
“You really have nothing to lose and on top of that, you have everything to gain,” Richter said.
If you ever get a chance to study abroad, you should take it.
No matter if it’s for one week, one month or a whole semester, being pushed so far out of your comfort zone will result in you learning more about yourself than you ever could have if you didn’t challenge yourself.