Studying abroad is a wondrous adventure few are lucky to experience. People who come back from study abroad become those annoying people who ONLY talk about their time abroad. Though they can be annoying (and I admit I am that annoying person) they do it because they had the greatest time. They were able to see the world and experience different cultures. However, most don’t talk about the hardships they also experienced during that time. But, I am here to talk (and give tips) about how I got through the challenges of study abroad I experienced during my semester in Oslo, Norway because its as important as the great times I experienced abroad.
Tip #1: Don’t overthink your choice. When I entered college, I began looking into places I could study abroad. Initially, I chose to go to Brighton, England. Although, a fun and colorful town, which I would highly recommend to anyone to study abroad; when I was accepted into the program, I instantly knew it wasn’t right for me. Semi-defeated, I decided to look at the USAC website one more time because whats the harm right? So, when I saw the Oslo program, I knew instantly that’s where I wanted to go.
I emailed my program advisor, probably 30 minutes after being accepted to Brighton, and switched. I didn’t even tell my parents until after I was re-accepted into the Oslo program. Who knew that impulsive decision would result in the best five months of my life.
My advice is pick the program that makes you feel the most excited. Sure, your friends might be a little skeptical of your choice (mine thought I was insane) but don’t let that stop you. Picking a place that makes you happy will fully allow you to enjoy your time abroad.
Tip #2: Utilize the resources given to you. Pre-departure was a bit messy from the beginning. Because of the program I chose, I needed to find my own housing (this isn’t the case for all USAC programs), get my visa, and basically prepare to up heave my entire life. The program advisor for Oslo was a huge help, but as a partnership program, the process of getting there is much more independent and out of USAC’s hands. Thankfully, everyone in my program was in the same boat as me. One student, Hunter, heaven bless him, began a GroupMe so everyone in the program could figure it out together. My advice is to utilize every resource available because you will need it to overcome some of the challenges of study abroad. Your program advisor is there for a reason; they are the most knowledgeable about the process and probably been asked every question imaginable. Don’t be afraid to email or go see them when you have questions for your program advisor. Also, if you can, get in contact with other members of your program. They probably have the same questions you do; and, it is nice to know that other people are feeling the same way you are.
Tip #3: Freaking out is normal. Somehow, I figured everything out (with A LOT of help from google translate) and was set to leave. Fast forward to the day of departure, and I was losing my ever-loving mind. Every thought you can think of ran through my head…What if I don’t make friends? What if I hate Oslo? What if I am Liam Neeson’s daughter in Taken and am never heard from again? These crazy thoughts are totally normal. I mean, you’re leaving your home and all you have known for a semester or more. Don’t let those irrational thoughts stop you. This, to me, is the first true test of studying abroad.
Facing the unknown is one of the scariest and most challenging problems you will endure. But, if you get on that plane, I guarantee you won’t even remember why you were so scared in the first place.
Tip #4: Have realistic expectation. One of the biggest challenges of study abroad is the expectation you set. I somehow waddled my way to the SiO Housing building (which was up the biggest hill I have EVER seen) to see hundreds of international students also waiting to get their housing assignments. So I had to wait for three hours—hungry and with 2 hours of sleep—just to get to my apartment; only to realize that the room doesn’t come with anything. There was no bedding or cooking utensils or wifi or basically anything necessary for me to live. I couldn’t even contact my parents to let them know that I had arrived. Even when I tried to go to the local grocery store, cutely named Kiwi, I couldn’t figure out what food was what because, unsurprisingly, it was all in Norwegian. On top of all that, it was raining. Not a cute, little sprinkle of rain—nope, it was Amazon-like downpour. My recommendation: prepare for anything to happen, then pack it all in your carry on. Look ahead and put anything you might need in your carry on. That way if anything changes, it is easy to pull out whatever you may need, without the hassle of digging through your large checked baggage.
Tip #5: Don’t forget to eat. The first shock I experienced was just the traveling itself. I have traveled by myself a lot, but this was like nothing I have ever experienced. I had three stops on my flight plan—Vegas to Atlanta, Atlanta to Belgium, Belgium to Oslo. All of which I didn’t eat or sleep. I highly recommend you learn from my mistakes and don’t do this. When I landed in Oslo, I was jet lagged and hangry, not a good mixture to have when trying to navigate the Oslo Metro System with more than a 100 pounds of luggage.
Tip #6: Don’t bottle up your feelings, find a way to let them out. That first day was without a doubt the hardest day of my life. The challenges of study abroad started immediately. I was exhausted from travelling and carrying my life in suitcases halfway across Oslo. I didn’t have anything to eat or sleep on. That night, I slept on a towel, using my winter jacket as a blanket and my travel pillow as an actual pillow. Thankfully, I had brought my own wifi router (thank you Hunter); and, I was able to FaceTime my parents, who I hadn’t talked to since I left America about a day ago. Due to time change, only my dad was able to talk when I had everything set up—perks of being a retiree. The moment he picked up, I instantly broke down. I let my all my feelings of exhaustion, hunger, homesickness, and fear of the journey ahead of me take over. I sobbed to my father about my journey for over an hour—which he would later tell me that after we disconnected, he also cried because he was so worried for me. Even now, close to a year later, I still get emotional thinking back on that day. Though it was a horrible day, I’m glad I was able to let out all my pent-up feelings. Write in a journal, call your parents, talk to your friends but finding a way to express your feelings and stay mentally healthy is necessary.
Tip #8: Any travel abroad is going to have bumps in the road. I had always wanted to travel because who wouldn’t? Traveling meant seeing more people, more cultures than just the one I had known for my whole life. That high changed when I went to visit my sister, who studied abroad in Bilbao, Spain. Bilbao is an amazing, little Basque city that is located in a more central part of the Basque country; so, my mom and I were able to visit San Sebastián and Pamplona, where the running of the bulls takes place. Even though I had my mom and sister with me, some parts of that trip were hard. For example, I got left at a metro station by my mom AND sister on my first day in a foreign country, without a phone or any way to contact my sister or mom. Not knowing if I should go to them or they will come to me, I waited at the metro stop for 30 minutes until they came back.
Tip #9: Embrace the challenges. The reason why I wanted to share my whole study abroad experience including the challenges of study abroad is because hardships are expected. Studying abroad means you are basically moving your whole life halfway across the world. Moving even just next door is hard, let alone to another country where you might not know the language or culture. Most of the time, these hardships are overlooked because your time abroad was so amazing that you forget the struggles you’ve gone through to get there. And don’t get me wrong, I had a BLAST abroad. I made lifelong friendships with people from so many different backgrounds and countries. I feel so blessed that I met all these people because without them, my time abroad would have been so different (and dare I say worse). But I say embrace those challenges that come studying abroad. I gained a sort of confidence since going abroad. Today, I feel more prepared and even more eager to face new challenges, because I know that I can handle them. I have so much more confidence in myself and my capabilities because of the hardships I went through in those first few days abroad. So, be prepared for some of the worst days of your life; because for every hard day, there are an endless amount of great, incredible, unforgettable days waiting ahead.
Rachel Miramontes is a USAC Oslo alumna. After her time abroad, she served as a Peer Advisor for USAC in the Central Office.