What I Learned from Study Abroad

Today I’m sharing my study abroad story, completely candid and unfiltered. To be honest, I’ve been wanting to write this post for a while now, but was struggling with how to best go about it. There are so many preconceptions about study abroad. Many students dream of that semester where they can explore another country and have the adventure of a lifetime. I sure was one of those students. I knew I wanted to study abroad since before I even entered college, and basically planned out in my head what it would look like when I was still in high school. (Am I weird? I’m weird.)

However, while it’s great to come back with stories about the amazing times we’ve had, it’s equally important to acknowledge that study abroad is by all means NOT a perfect semester. This is definitely something we don’t talk about enough.

Don’t get me wrong, I had some wonderful times abroad, memories I’ll cherish for a lifetime—from traveling around Europe to meeting new friends from around the world… I could go on and on. Even now looking back at photos, I can’t help but feel nostalgic. I miss it. But it was definitely an emotional rollercoaster.

I spent my junior fall in Geneva, Switzerland studying international relations and interning in the field. On paper, it was perfect. As an international relations and economics major, not only was I at the center of it all, but also I got to participate in history-making meetings with top leaders at the world’s leading international organizations. UN, WTO, ILO, WHO… you name it. Could it get any better? Geneva was the place to be.

When I first got to Switzerland, it was everything I thought it would be. Beautiful architecture, delicious food, breathtaking landscapes… it felt like paradise. However, after things settled in, I quickly realized that Geneva was not for me. I found myself unsatisfied with my courses and internship, and the constant gray skies sure didn’t help my mood.

Everyone kept telling me that study abroad is supposed to be amazing and life changing, so I kept reminding myself of that whenever I was feeling down. I looked for the positives and waited for the amazing because I knew this was a once in a lifetime opportunity and I didn’t want to ruin it for myself.

However, even though it was a rough semester, if you were to ask me if I’d do it again, I’d say yes in a heartbeat. The friendships I made and experiences I had are irreplaceable. But most importantly, I learned who I am and what I want, and to always enjoy the little things, live in the moment, and find the positives in life. Study abroad is what YOU make of it, so make it count. 🙂

If you are even considering studying abroad, I say go for it. Like anything that makes you step out of your comfort zone it can be daunting, but it is always worth it in the end.

Here are some tips that I hope will be helpful:

  • Go in with realistic expectations. Not everything will turn out the way you want it to, and that’s okay. Make the best of it! Although I was disappointed with my academic situation, I was able to receive credit for graduation, and I gained a greater understanding of what I really wanted to do after college.
  • Make sure you have a support system you can count on. Whether it be friends and family back home or in your new city, having people to talk to makes everything easier. Luckily I had two wonderful program advisors and was able to make friends with other students in the city. I still keep in touch with them!
  • Meet locals. I signed up for a language exchange and a foreign exchange buddy, both of whom were Swiss and two of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. I could not be more grateful for them because they made me feel comfortable in a completely foreign place. If your program or city has something like that, definitely take advantage of it. Not only was I able to make local friends, but also I got to see Switzerland through their perspective and practice my French!
  • TRAVEL. Traveling was without a doubt the highlight of my study abroad experience. Check out Easy Jet, Ryan Air, and Student Universe for student-friendly air prices, and see if your country has local transportation deals for students. Remember to plan and book early for the best deals! I was fortunate to be able to travel around Switzerland with their efficient train system, student half-fare card, and monthly tram pass (the last two were provided for by my program), and to other countries with EasyJet’s affordable prices. Not only was traveling eye-opening, but also it gave me wonderful memories to look back on.

Remember that no matter what happens, you will walk away having learned something in the end. Your setbacks will only make you stronger. You got this! 🙂

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