This post was written by Emily Brown, a regular contributor to The Works and a graduate student in the College Student Development and Counseling program at Northeastern University. She is also a Career Development Intern.
The decision to study abroad is a major one. It’s a unique opportunity to immerse yourself in a new culture and to receive college credit while doing so. There are many factors to consider before diving into a study abroad experience including where to go, what to study, if you’ll be able to stay on track to fulfill your major requirements, and for how long you’re willing to away from campus. My alma mater offers strictly year-long study abroad experiences and I ultimately decided that I wasn’t willing to give up an entire year in the campus community that I’d already grown to love. Many of my friends did study abroad in places including Ireland, Scotland, and Spain. Here are some of my secondhand impressions from their experiences:
- The food is bad. Whatever you’re complaining about in the dining hall now will be infinitely better than what you eat abroad.
- There will be one major exception to the disgusting food and you will become weirdly obsessed with it and upset that it’s not available back home.
- If you’re feeling homesick, Skyping in for the weekly Grey’s Anatomy viewing is always an option. It might start at 2am with the time difference, but it might be worth it.
- Speaking of Skype. No one looks good on it. Accept it.
- There will be exotic animals at some point and you will take pictures on or near them.
- You will come home with funny/horrifying stories about flying on RyanAir.
And because you might be interested in hearing from people who did actually study abroad, I reached out to some friends for their advice:
- Bring a small bag or suitcase for weekend travel
- Before you leave, talk to students or alumni who have studied abroad at the school you will be attending. They’ll have inside information on the classes, professors, and local area.
- Keep a journal
- Don’t over pack
- Fabric softener and laundry detergent can come in deceivingly similar packaging. Beware.
- Don’t focus on being homesick. The time will go by faster than you think. And if you need comfort food, “grilled” cheese can be made in a microwave in a pinch.
- Step outside your comfort zone. Talk to locals and immerse yourself in the culture. You’ll probably only live abroad once.
- Bring a copy of your passport and other important travel documents. Also leave copies with your parents and email them to yourself if possible.
My overall impression of friends’ study abroad trips is that they were truly memorable experiences that increased their self-confidence and independence. They made a ton of great memories that they still talk about years later and feel a lasting connection to the countries they studied in. Personally, I don’t regret my decision not to study abroad. I was lucky enough to be able to visit friends abroad and made some great memories of my own back on campus. Studying abroad is a really great opportunity, but I think it’s important to do it because it’s the right decision for you and not because you “should.” Everyone has different needs and goals that they want to fulfill during their college years and sometimes studying abroad will fit into that. If it does, that’s great, but, if it doesn’t, that’s OK too.
Emily Brown is a Career Development intern and a graduate student in Northeastern’s College Student Development and Counseling Program. She is a lifelong Bostonian interested in the integration of social media into the professional realm. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.