Studying abroad is not going to suck. The word suck is non-descriptive and doesn’t accurately describe an experience. Studying abroad is not going to suck. It’s going to be life-changing. It’s going to be incredibly satisfying, sometimes challenging, and all in all, the best experience of your life thus far. Studying abroad is going to change the way you understand yourself in relation to those around you and teach you about who you want to be in this world. Sometimes you will face language barriers – but you’ll get through it.
Sometimes you will be lonely and miss your friends and family – but you’ll create new, incredibly strong bonds with people from all different backgrounds. And sometimes you’ll feel uncomfortable in your homestay and have to adjust to new cultural norms – but that is how you learn.
You will have to leave your comfort zone. You will have to ask questions and feel vulnerable at times. You will probably cry. I know I did – most definitely more than I ever have while living here at CMC. There were times when I wanted to go home, times when I felt completely violated and unsafe, even times when I thought I regretted going abroad. For instance, the weekly tuna fish casserole for dinner, which consisted of, according to my roommate “lima beans, rice, tuna, a pound of mayo, ketchup, death, and salt and pepper”, made me want to go home. I wanted to go home after I got jumped and robbed my first weekend there. And there were some cultural practices to which I never understood nor adapted to.
Just because it’s not easy all of time does not mean it’s going to suck.
A difficult situation does not mean that it’s a bad one.
It was difficult sometimes, definitely. But then there were the days that I remembered I was living on a completely different continent. I was in a place where I could travel and experience the world. There were days when I witnessed government protests and learned about a new system of criminal justice. There were days when I remembered that what I was experiencing was something that could not be done at any other point in my life. I remembered how lucky I was to be abroad.
Sometimes you may feel silly trying to communicate with the locals, but they will help you. Sometimes you may have awkward encounters with your host family and feel uncomfortable in social situations, they will want to talk to you and learn from you, because they, too, will feel uncomfortable with some of your habits. Sometimes the food will smell weird and look funny, and yes, sometimes it will even taste weird and taste funny. But cuisine is a key part of most cultures, so try it! Sometimes you will feel alone without high-speed internet or you iPhone data plan, but a little separation from technology is something we all need, isn’t it? It’s the only way you’ll be able to fully immerse yourself in the culture, without relying on your friends back home. Sometimes you will question why you even went abroad. But those are the moments you have to remind yourself that studying abroad is an unbelievable opportunity - an opportunity that so many wish they had; the opportunity to learn about a new culture and completely immerse yourself in another country.
So for those of you preparing for a semester abroad, I give you this piece of advice: try asking your host family questions about their history. Ask them to teach you how to cook one of their favorite dishes. Ask them how to say certain phrases. Then, share with them. Share something about your life at CMC. Share something about a tradition in your own family. Try and appreciate and take in small parts of your day that are now normal that on your first day there seemed so foreign. You’ll start to realize that you did, in fact, change some of your habits. You’ll realize that you no longer feel embarrassed when you speak to locals. You’ll realize that you understand the politics you read about in the newspaper. You’ll realize that there are, in fact, parts of the city that you will miss. You’ll realize that you can now get around your neighborhood without a map or feeling lost. And that is what studying abroad is about.