The most impactful opportunities for growth exist right outside our comfort zone, and study abroad is full of those uncomfortable yet powerful experiences. That’s why we love it, right? And while some of these experiences might seem obvious—think navigating visa requirements to prepare for departure or practicing French while buying a metro ticket—but study abroad can test our limits in a lot of unexpected ways. Here are some less obvious ways that study abroad will push your boundaries and keep you on your toes (again, that’s why we love it!).
You’ll Have to Live with New People
One of the greatest perks of studying abroad is the chance to meet new people, network, and build lifelong friendships. However, as is the case with any new social situation, connecting with people isn’t always easy. Similar to moving into the dorms your freshman year, you will be placed with a roommate (or roommates) you’ve likely never met before. Whether you opt for a homestay, student apartment, or any other housing option, you will have to learn how to live with somebody new.
That means working around each other’s routines, tackling chores, and communicating expectations and boundaries. And truthfully, living with somebody new can be tough, especially as you adjust to life in a new culture. Just remember to be open to compromise: Your roommate is experiencing just as much of a lifestyle change as you are.
Your World View Will be Tested
Study abroad will, without a doubt, influence your perspectives. This can, however, be difficult for some people to face. It’s not comfortable to have your worldview challenged and depending on how drastic of a cultural shift you find yourself in abroad, life as you know it might be flipped upside down. From little shifts, such as air-drying laundry, to larger cultural pillars, such as politics and social issues, you will experience some form of culture shock and challenges. Remember that there is no right or wrong way of life and keep an open mind to the cultural differences you face in your host country. Focus on learning the “why” behind these social differences instead of resisting them, and you’ll understand your host culture more.
Your Ego Might Get Bruised
In case you missed it: Studying abroad isn’t always sunshine and rainbows. And guess what? Even the most seasoned travelers fumble a bit in unfamiliar territory. It’s all a part of the process. True cultural immersion comes with lots of humility and patience. Be prepared to make mistakes, and don’t take any missteps too personally. Growth will come much more naturally when you put your ego aside and remain open to the challenges you will inevitably face.
You’ll Be Tired
Study abroad requires a lot, and we mean a lot, of energy. There’s the obvious physical strain studying abroad, and international travel can put on your body. You’ll stay up late with your new friends, jet lag and traveling will affect your sleep routine, and exploring new cities all day will take a toll on your feet. However, a lot of students don’t realize how mentally fatigued they are while abroad. Not only are you absorbing lots of information in the classroom, but your brain will always be turned up a notch, listening to an unfamiliar language, socializing with new friends, and taking in the culture around you. Using that much brainpower can be exhausting! Be sure to give yourself some breaks and check in on your mental and physical health regularly.
You’ll Miss Your Typical Creature Comforts
We talk a lot about homesickness while studying abroad, but many people don’t realize they likely won’t have their normal comforts to reach for when things get tough. It may not seem like a big deal now—not having access to your favorite snack, running trail, or best friend confidant—but you’ll be surprised to discover how challenging navigating the ups and downs of culture shock can be without your normal security blankets. The good news? You’re not alone! And you’ll learn to try new things to help you adjust in your host country.
So instead of having your parents ship you a box of your favorite snacks or spending hours every day in your apartment on Facetime with your bestie from home, channel your energy into incorporating new pieces of your host culture into your self-care routine.