Studying abroad isn’t easy.
If you ask other students at OU about their study abroad experiences, you will probably hear a plethora of positive adjectives. Amazing. Absolutely wonderful. Interesting. Rewarding. The list goes on. If you consult Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat, you will be inundated with beaming faces gesticulating to the Eiffel Tower or the Colosseum behind them and goofy grins half hidden behind artisanal coffees and glasses of local wine.
These aren’t wrong. Although the stories may be condensed and edited, the pictures posed and filtered, study abroad is full of beautiful and inspiring moments that you will treasure for the rest of your life. That being said, this is only part of the experience.
I have not had any difficulties. I am in a country where everyone speaks English, I have not lost my suitcase or missed my train, I was able to enroll in classes that I can use for my degree, I have not been harassed or attacked or mugged. The worst thing that I have endured was falling ill in Switzerland and being forced to travel home early, forfeiting my nonrefundable tickets. I know travelers have faced much worse and I know OU students who have faced much worse, but nevertheless, this isn’t easy.
Think back to your freshman year at college, your first month at school. You were in a new place, you didn’t know how anything worked, and you were removed from friends and family. Studying abroad presents a host of similar challenges, set in a completely foreign environment. I expected things. I knew that it would be difficult to be separated from my loved ones, not only by distance but by a time difference. I knew that the classes would be formatted completely differently from those at OU and that I would need to double and triple check every requirement and deadline. I knew that I would essentially be living out of a suitcase, limited in my possessions by what I had brought with me and what I had room to bring back.
I did not expect the sheer volume of new input to be so overwhelming. My shopping excursions took ages as I flitted from store to store, unsure where to buy what I sought. I did not expect periods of excruciating boredom interjected with days of frantic productivity. The rhythm of coursework and errands and social life here evades my best attempts at synchronization. I did not expect the quiet constant unease stemming from the inescapable truth that no matter how beautiful my new linens were and how many new friends I was making, my time was fixed, running steadily through the hourglass, and this was not my home. Constantly poised on the edge of my seat, I hesitate to settle in, fearing to aggravate the sting of my inevitable departure.
I do not wish to dissuade anyone from studying abroad. I adore England and would make this choice again in a heartbeat. Every day is an adventure and every day I stop and think about how lucky I am to be here. I smile frequently, broad, genuine smiles that are rarely captured in photos. I am happy.
Just know, when you attend Study Abroad 101 and browse the programs and write your application essays reverberating with enthusiasm, studying abroad isn’t easy.