Someone asked me, “What advice would you give others considering studying abroad?”
I say, “Do it anyway.”
You do not want to miss out on things that might happen when you are away. You are worried about your GPA. You have a hard enough time rooming with someone from a similar background, and cannot imagine living with someone from the other side of the world. You are addicted to Chipotle. Your language level is not up to par. You already have other plans.
You are looking for excuses.
Life is filled with ups and downs, whether you are at home or in a new place. No, junior year abroad was not the best year of my life. I had class at 8 a.m. five days a week, checked the air quality index five times a day, and asked “Are you still there? Did the connection drop?” at least five times every Skype call.
This year I studied countless Chinese characters, learned things about the economy that I probably should have already known, and was forced to question many things that I did not previously realize were cultural constructs because they are so ingrained in American society.
And I learned to truly feel things. Maybe it was because I was an expat and everyone already expected Americans to be dramatic and do strange things, but I felt less ashamed to admit it when I felt anxious, confused, exasperated, stupid, naive, lonely. By talking about all of those things with my friends, roommates, teachers, and old people in the park I realized they had been there before, too. Similarly, we all celebrated everything more wholeheartedly. We were less self conscious and did things without worrying how they might seem to others. We sang on the subway, talked freely with strangers, ate dumplings too much and did laundry too little. We drank tea and tequila, made brownies in a toaster oven, video chatted with friends at 4 a.m. local time, and said prayers together before takeoff and landing. We skipped class to recover from traveling or just to cry. We carried each other.
Yes, you can have all that without ever leaving. But there is something about going away that makes coming home better.
My friend was right to ask about advice for students considering studying abroad, instead of just asking “How was abroad?!” like most people. Unfortunately, there is no universal advice… The best response I can give is to reply as if I am giving advice to my past self. And that is this: Do it anyway.
You will feel incredibly out of place on some days, and indescribably invincible on others. The server might (will) crash during enrollment, you might get food poisoning, you might have to sleep on the floor, and your pictures will never do the ice festival or the Great Wall justice. I hope you* do it anyway. In the end, you will be glad you did.
*Please tell me you already know and love this song: “I Hope You Dance” by Lee Ann Womack