WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – Every former study abroad student can probably write you a 100-page long list of reasons why a semester abroad is an amazing and inspiring once-in-a-lifetime experience. What they don’t tell you are all of the struggles that can make time abroad seem like a far away, unreachable dream. Luckily, while these struggles may sometimes seem immense, they can be overcome with a little hard work and some practical planning.
Most college students are very familiar with the struggle of making it through the week with what little cash is in your bank account. College is already expensive, with textbooks, rent (if you live off campus), gas, meals, and endless other basic essentials. Throw in study abroad costs, and that bill begins to add up to frightening amounts. However, this is where budgeting and careful planning come in to play and make this experience possible. Being responsible with your money and saving as much as possible ahead of time are solutions that will help you overcome tough financial situations.
No matter how excited you are to finally be abroad, there will be moments when you miss your family and friends back home. I personally was homesick the moment I set my luggage down in my dorm room, because it was the first moment I realized what exactly I was doing. I was going to spend the next four months an ocean away from home, and for a moment, it was terrifying. Yet that was the only bought of homesickness I faced, because from that moment on I was too busy visiting new countries, exploring new cities, and making new memories to miss home. While you should be sensitive to the fact that your family is likely missing you greatly while you’re away, you can not dwell on it. Keep in contact and send regular updates, but do not get so caught up on what you might be missing at home that you miss all the opportunities set right in front of you. Homesickness happens, but it does pass.
- Language Barriers
Language barriers can be intimidating obstacles that make students fearful of traveling abroad. To prepare for this, purchase a language dictionary, or download smartphone apps that can translate words you do not know and even teach you a few basic phrases. Google Translate is a great app for this, available on both Apple and Android devices. Further, while it can be discouraging not to be able to read street signs, understand locals, or even read a menu, there is no reason to let frustration win. It can be difficult and awkward at first, but no one is expecting you to be perfect at speaking the language. Locals appreciate your efforts in simply trying to speak their language. Just do your best, and by the end of the semester you will likely be able to speak more fluently than you ever expected.
- Wi-Fi (Or lack thereof)
If you are like me, you probably will not purchase an international phone plan and will rely on airplane mode and Wi-Fi to use your smartphone. With Whatsapp as my only form of communication, and with social media only being available when I was hooked up to my university’s internet, my phone use was pretty limited. At times, mainly when I was trying to look up directions while out and about, this was inconvenient. But overall, not being on my phone all the time allowed me to watch my travels through my own eyes instead of through my cell phone camera. While it can be agitating to not have the internet access we’ve all become so accustomed to, you will certainly be able to manage. You might even find that not being glued to your phone is a rather cathartic experience.
While there are plenty more struggles you might encounter during your semester abroad, the situations on this list are among the most common and most apparent. However, as with most any obstacle, these can be overcome. They can even become great life lessons that you can carry with you forever, as long as you are open to the experience.