Preparing: Fall Semester Expectations
The end of days swimming in the pool, working hard to save money, mowing the lawn–it all ends more quickly than you expect, and study abroad appears on the near horizon. Your semester looms ahead in a tangle of joy and apprehension, the event you’ve spent years imagining and all summer frantically trying to visualize.
The countdown begins in the summer, and it involves a wide range of emotions–from realizing that you will be leaving, spending precious time with family and friends, and getting SO EXCITED about traveling to your new country that you can’t stop walking around on Google Maps at your new place.
I was that fall semester student, who turned into a year long student–but I never would have guessed I would have loved it enough to stay that long. If you’d asked me a year previously, I would have responded positively–but with my precious summer quickly ending, the thought of even one semester away seemed like an impossible thing. My summer was filled with a lot of happiness but a lot of anxiety and anticipation. It was the furthest thing from my mind that I’d love it so much that I’d stay.
Keep in mind, that even when the anxieties of your trip start overwhelming you, project your mind forward to realize that, against all odds, you’ll probably be having the time of your life in 2 months and telling your friends you never want to leave.
I had a lot of expectations for that fall semester. You’ll spend a lot of summer time visualizing, rehashing every detail of every potential experience you’ll have. Which is why I want to impart to you one piece of information: start feeling content with the idea that it’ll be different than you expect.
Having your study abroad experience be different than you anticipate sounds nerve wracking, but it actually frees up your mind to do some serious planning instead of frantic grasping-for-straws-hoping-I-make-friends sort of imaginary scenarios. For me, after months of desperately trying to envision life in Northern Ireland, it gave me a moment to take a breather and say–hey, it’ll be different, so I shouldn’t waste my time trying to imagine stuff that may not involve these imaginary scenarios anyways.
Start feeling content with the idea that it’ll be different than you expect.
It also gives you room to be disappointed. Disappointment is not a word we commonly use when talking about study abroad, but it will happen. Disappointment is a part of life, and a part of travel. Some of the biggest disappointments in study abroad happen when the student is confronted with a totally different situation than they imagined. This situation doesn’t have to be bad! In fact, you may discover that the city you’re in has a different pace or lifestyle than you imagined, but it doesn’t make it any less worthwhile. It comes down to your ability to adapt, laugh it off, and make wise (not emotion-driven) decisions about what to do with your time.
So when I imagined walking the streets of Derry, Northern Ireland, I imagined this place that had green rolling hills and funny Irish pubs on every corner. I imagined an apartment that overlooked the city and was filled with peace and amazing new multicultural friends.
Instead, I ended up in a city that was filled with winding streets, hilly university buildings, and sometimes rowdy bars. Instead of green hills licking my doorstep, I had the banks of the Foyle River highlighting my way through town (and could still see the green hills at a distance). I fell in love with it. Sure, it wasn’t an idyllic Irish country town–it’s halfway between that and a big UK city (which makes it perfect in my mind) and anyways, after living in a small Irish town this year, I realized that I would have not wanted that on my study abroad trip. I’m glad my expectations turned around and surprised me. It didn’t make everything perfect; my city was great but I learned valuable lessons in patience with different flatmates, and learned that life abroad is spent skipping from one city to the next but in digging down deep into life and unlocking your character, strength, and community building skills.
As you look forward to study abroad, just remember, sometimes real life is even better than what you can imagine.
In the end, I did meet so many different people who are special and individual and constantly remind me of one thing–it’s wonderful to get your expectations turned around. As you look forward to study abroad, just remember, sometimes real life is even better than what you can imagine. Maybe because it’s a viewpoint you’d never think of, maybe because of that bakeshop you never imagined was so delicious and the friend you never expected to meet there, or maybe it’s because the lessons you would never have learned otherwise.
I know one thing: leaving your anxiety behind by smiling at your expectations and keeping a loose grip on them, and looking forward to whatever the future brings, is key to getting the most you can out of study abroad.
(Okay, enough lecturing! Thanks for sticking with us on our Processing & Preparing series. Next time we’ll bring you a personal travel story, just to mix things up a bit. Stay tuned, and join our conversation on Twitter!)