This post has been long overdue. I’ve had a sticky note with a rough draft of the key points written out for about four months and have been home for three and a half. So like I said, long overdue.
Plus, I wasn’t sure if people were still interested in my study abroad experience since it ended months ago, but a quick Twitter poll convinced me otherwise. Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter to have a say in future posts!
So as the title of this suggests, I’m going to be talking about what I learned while studying abroad. And honestly, it’s more general than that, and all that I’m going to talk about could easily be applied to any trip abroad I’d think. So whether you’re going to be living in another country for a week or for four months, reading this post might help you prepare for the mindset you’re going to be in while there, when you’re back and what to expect in general.
Since I have had a lot of time to think about what’s going to go into this post, it’s going to be long. And maybe a little emotional. You’ll just have to keep reading to find out.
Going to Europe, going outside the country for the first time, or studying abroad, whichever you want to say caused it, changed me and made me want to make some changes to my life when I returned to the states. Some of these changes were good and affected me positively, while others made my mental health take a dive either while abroad or when I came back. Other things I learned didn’t want me to make changes to my life, they just shifted my outlook and view on life.
We really are the same
Everyone obviously has different traits and personalities and ways of doing things and accents and ways of life and appearances, but as cheesy as it sounds, we really are just human.
Having never been out of the country before, anytime I would meet a foreigner or study abroad student, I was always fascinated by them. And I remember my classmates being the same in high school – always fawning over the new kids from Europe, Asia, Australia or where ever they were from.
But after having lived in Scotland for almost five months, literally maybe even after a day, I realized we’re all just human and we just created all the things that make us different. We each just want happiness and to pass classes and eat good food and make great friends and find love and follow our passions, whatever they might be.
I know I got deep real fast, but I kid you not I wrote this note down on my first day of orientation over in Glasgow. And I think it’s the most important thing I learned, too.
I have too many material possessions
I noticed this right away before I even left to go to Scotland. I mean I brought three suitcases and a backpack full of stuff for crying out loud. Sure, I’m a chronic over-packer and love dressing up, but I even brought stuff I never really wore or liked much. Not only did/do I have too much stuff, but I’m too attached to my possessions – especially my clothing and shoes.
Passing all the storefronts near my flat was annoying as crap in the beginning. I just wanted to go in and buy everything! Which I obviously couldn’t since everything I bought would have to fit in my suitcases home. Because of this, I learned right away I should only be buying stuff that I absolutely needed (like hangers and new socks) or things I thought were an eleven out of 10 (like my blue suede jacket I dropped £45 on).
Since coming back to the states, I’ve been trying to cut down on my shopping obsession. I’ve only gone to a mall twice and placed two online clothing orders. That may or may not have more to do with me being broke after fixing my car and currently being unemployed, but I like to think it’s because I’m moving on from material things.
I now think about how much traveling I could do rather than buying new running shoes and a workout outfit. Because holy cow, do I just want to travel everywhere now.
I’ll never see everything
Speaking of traveling, I know I’ll never see everything on my bucket list. And that’s okay. My bucket list is pages and notebooks long. Honestly, I’d rather see a few things I’ve always dreamed about rather than a bunch of random cool places.
Looking at this a different way: I lived in Glasgow for four and a half months and couldn’t tell you but maybe four places to eat food and a handful of sights and only the big chain stores, save for a small bookstore and vintage shop I found.
What am I saying? I’m saying that Glasgow, and every city and town, has bars and stores and restaurants and interesting places lining every street but you’ll never be able to go to every single one. And while that might cause some FOMO, just sit and think about how unfeasible it is to be able to see every single thing a city has to offer. Like who has the time, and more importantly, the money for that? I mean sure I’d have loved to try out some fancy high-class eateries and pubs, but yo girl ain’t rich and she knew that.
This is especially true if you’re only visiting a city for a day, a weekend, or a week. So don’t feel bad if you never see everything a city has to offer. Or the world. Just focus on the things you’d kill to see. Start there.
Making friends in a new city
This is another one of the biggest things I learned while I was abroad. Making friends in a new city isn’t impossible, it’s just hard, especially since I’m an introvert and have social anxiety.
Making friends would have been easy had I not skipped two of the international student events I had signed up for. Once because I was napping (oops) and one because I was too scared to go. But I did end up making friends. Mostly by them coming up and talking to me and I’m okay with that. I’m not a very outspoken person until I know you or unless I’m with someone I know.
Related: How to Make Friends in College
Knowing that I can make friends in a country I’m not even from really assured me that I would be able to do it should I move in the future. Which I plan on doing maybe a year or so after graduation.
This is the hardest to explain. I don’t want to sound like one of those people who go abroad and never stop talking about it, but I think I always will be because it changed me so much and opened my mind.
Going abroad, especially for so long, showed me the world isn’t all that different or exotic as I used to think it is, or like almost everyone who hasn’t traveled abroad thinks it is. For example, my first weekend in Glasgow, I took a train to the west side and explored a museum and the University of Glasgow and I was in awe. I thought it was the most magical thing ever. And I felt the same way about George Square, the middle of Glasgow just 5-ish blocks from my flat. Then two weeks past and I was like, “Eh that’s just normal here.”
It’s kinda like how people overlook the nature of beauty right in their backyard for their whole lives, but then a little kid or tourist comes along and shows you how beautiful the place you live really is.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, everything is going to seem fantastical if you’re not used to it or have never seen it in person before.
Traveling isn’t glamorous
Every single person online ever lies about travel being glamorous.
Y’all, that stuff ain’t real if you’re on a budget. I literally took ten to twelve-hour bus rides to get to Oxford and London. I woke up a 4:30 a.m. to get glam and ready to walk a mile to the train station before 6 a.m. I’ve done my makeup in a bus station bathroom. I walked upwards of 7 miles every day in a new city, and walked 10 miles on my first day in London and overextended my knee and limped all week there. Also, in London, I almost got turned away from my hostel because I didn’t have my passport so I had to lie and tell the manager I lost it.
And don’t even get me started on the creepy guys. Sure Europe is not bad for catcalling (I only got catcalled once and it was when a guy told me my legs were “fit as fuck”) and I was never harassed, it was just people trying to take advantage of me being American.
I had guys hit on me who said they had just gotten out of prison, guys follow me around a club, and guys follow me home from the train station. And I was more prepared than I thought and able to handle the situation safely.
Also, being abroad showed me the world isn’t all that different or exotic as I used to think it is, or like almost everyone who hasn’t traveled abroad thinks it is. People think Europe is going to be this amazing place that is a completely different world, but they still have McDonald’s, they still have people in uni, still have malls and movie theaters, it’s just a different city. It’s like how Cincinnati looks and feels nothing like Seattle. Glasgow looks and feels nothing like any other city so why even compare it to a city in the States?
One last note, dreaming of something is always different than the real thing. And if usually sets high expectations that are easily crushed and make the places you travel to less magical.
Who needs wifi at all times?
Going abroad without a data plan was the step back from social media I didn’t know I needed.
First off, I could only hop on Insta when I was home, in a coffee shop, on a bus or train, and at some pubs. So like never when I was traveling.
But I did stay in my flat a lot when I wasn’t traveling, and yet I wasn’t always on my phone. Having such a weird time difference between you and the vast majority of people you follow makes your feeds lag and be boring at times you’re used to them being filled with new funny tweets and cute pictures of your friends.
I loved not feeling attached to my phone all the time but, like always, I’m so addicted to it again after coming home that it makes me feel even worse. That’s definitely something I’m still adjusting to.
Related: Do you Need a Socal Media Detox?
Pictures do matter as much as I’ve always emphasized
I’ve always been in love with taking photos. Of myself, of my friends, my surroundings, just anything. And that really came in handy while I was abroad because I basically documented every day I spent abroad.
I have an awful memory in general but have a great visual memory. I could never recall a person’s name, but I can tell you what they were wearing the last time I saw them or what they were wearing on certain days.
This is great because when I go through my study abroad album I may just see a photo of two pigeons on a window, but I’ll remember that right after I took that photo my hot Dublin tour guide that looked like Bill Weasley told our group that craic meant fun. Pictures really are worth a thousand words and are not just what they seem on the surface.
Whew. Pretty sure that was the longest post I’ve ever written. So props to you if you read the whole thing, or at least skimmed all the way to the bottom.
I really hope you got something out of reading this, even if you never plan on going abroad. Maybe a new perspective on life or just a new way of looking at things. Maybe you’ll look at your own city as a foreigner or maybe you’ve got Skyscanner already open and you’re checking for the cheapest flight to Italy. Same.
Have you ever been abroad? What did you learn from the experience?