First off, let me note that yes, that is an extremely long title, and yes the latter part is a bit of a lie. I actually am a two-and-a-half-weeks-to-leave study abroader, but I thought that was a little long, and didn’t serve the purpose I wanted. The first blog post I ever wrote was a list of advice I wanted to give three weeks before I left for Spain, and I wanted to round that out by giving my new list of advice for those planning on going abroad three weeks before I leave Spain and this amazing experience is behind me.
So, without further ado, I give you…
Advice from a three-weeks-to-leave study abroader:
1. Pack less than you ever thought you needed. Seriously. I promise that you will be able to find a cute new shirt for the change of season, or (maybe not your favorite, but a very workable) shampoo in whatever country you are going to. Keep in mind that I studied abroad in Spain, so it may be different in the country you are going to, but at least for me I have been able to find everything and anything I wanted here including a hair straightener and blow dryer. Further, you will be buying a lot of really cool things in whatever country you go to, not only for yourself but for your friends, and you will definitely thank yourself when you pack to head home (like I’m about to do in a couple weeks) and have ample space for everything.
2. On the packing note, there are three random things that I wish I had packed but didn’t: chapstick, sunscreen, and a pair of boots. Chapstick because the air here is extremely dry and I have a slight obsession with Burt’s Beeswax chapstick haha plus, it’s pretty easy to pack a few little tubes of Chapstick. Sunscreen because it, along with chapstick, is actually pretty expensive here as Spanish people don’t really use it. I only needed the sunscreen once when we went to the beach in Barcelona and it was frustrating to buy almost 20 dollar sunscreen for that one use. And, finally, boots because, well, once it got cold here I didn’t really want to buy a pair of boots and my feet have been a little chilly in my flats and toms. Plus, you wanna be in style, haha. Also, they’re very useful in the rain. Oh, speaking of that, unless you want to buy an umbrella, bring one.
3. Facebook can be dangerous when you’re abroad. You will be having some of the most amazing experiences of your life, and yet when you see pictures of your friends from home going to their formal or at the Christmas lighting, or even a status just about going to Cookout instead of studying, if you’re anything like me you’ll feel a little left out. You could have spent the entire weekend in Rome seeing the Coliseum and eating real italian food, but just a quick trip to Cookout your friends took will make you a little jealous. Even more so, when you’re working on homework or about to go to bed it can be easy to fall into the trap of just Facebook chatting whoever happens to be on to get that fill of what’s going on in the States. It’s not a bad thing to do from time to time -of course you want to stay in touch with your friends and you should- but just watch it, it can become a little like a drug and even make you appreciate less the amazing times you are having here. They should be the jealous ones, not you, haha.
4. Throw yourself into the culture of wherever you are going as much as possible. You’ll miss American culture, but believe me, it’ll be there when you get back and you’ll have it for the rest of your life. You’ve only got the Chinese culture, or the Chilean culture for a couple months. Be as much a part of it as you can. Don’t be a tourist, be a local. Spend time with your host family. Only eat Chilean food. Drink tea after lunch every day like the locals do. Just completely throw yourself into every aspect of it for at least the first two months; then you can start missing America and seeking out those little American fixes (for me it’s getting chicken McNuggets from McDonalds. Don’t ask, it’s a weird one haha.)
5. Speaking of that, spend as much time as possible with your host family if you are with a host family. I found out that I had to put myself into the situation at first of spending time with them. I’d make myself stay downstairs after dinner instead of running up to my room to Skype someone or do homework and watch TV and talk with them. And now, I can’t tell you how happy I am that I did. I love my host family, they are amazing people and we have amazing conversations all the time. Not only has that helped improve my Spanish, but I’ve gotten to know the wonderful people who are housing and feeding me for these months. There isn’t anything better than that.
6. Make friends with the locals, especially if you are a language major. I don’t mean to say stay away from Americans, but believe me, the temptation to speak English with other Americans is pretty much extreme. Find yourself some friends in the culture you’re living in, even if those friends are your host family and then speak to them and spend as much time with them as possible. Yes, spend time with your fellow Americans too and make friends with them too, but remember that you are abroad to experience a different culture and learn new things. And, if you have friends from the country you live in AND new American friends, look at how popular you’ll be, haha.
7. Travel. Go out there and see the world, you have this amazing opportunity to do it that you may never have again. So dust of those walking shoes and get going. But this comes with a bit of a caveat, especially if you’re a language major: make sure you travel within the country you’re living in and not just hit all of the tourist spots like Paris, or London. I have pretty much stayed traveling within Spain rather than spending every weekend going to another country. Do what suits you best, but I’m happy I’ve done that because I feel my focus has been to learn Spanish culture and I’ve truly gotten to experience it. Yes, I traveled to Rome because it was my dream to go there, but I honestly don’t regret that I traveled within Spain instead of going to Paris or other places. I know I’ll make it happen that I come back here to visit all of those places.
8. Allow yourself to be homesick. I honestly am happy that I HAVE been homesick. To me it just proves that even though my life here has been so amazing it’s beyond words to express, I have a life just as wonderful waiting for me back home. I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that. So, let yourself be homesick sometimes, allow yourself to miss the people back home because I’m sure they’re missing you. But, don’t let it impede you from doing anything. Don’t lock yourself in your room and shut yourself down. Get out there and sit on the couch with your host family, or call up a friend and go explore. Or even just go explore on your own. Do something, it’s the best cure for homesickness I know.
9. Bring a good plug adaptor. And take as many pictures as you possibly can. You’ll want to look back and remember, believe me. Write down your favorite foods, honestly just write a blog about your experiences. Some little details can slip from your memory, but even the little details are important here.
10. It’s personal. It can be lonely. Let it be. Study abroad is one of the most personal empowering experiences I’ve ever had. I don’t feel like I’ve changed as a person so much as I’ve bettered as a person. You won’t be able to tell everyone back home everything you’ve gone through, it’s impossible to explain the experiences you’re having. You’re going to run out of words to classify them. Just let yourself experience them, it’s good for you. Believe me, you’re going to have bad days, days when really you just want to get back to the States asap. Maybe you won’t, and if you don’t count yourself lucky. There will be things that frustrate you, that you won’t like, that bother you. Take them all with a grain of salt and let them go. Focus on the amazing and great things.
You’re going to have the best time of your life, believe me. Am I excited about going home in two-and-a-half weeks? Hands down, heck yes. Am I extremely sad about it? Most definitely. I can’t tell you how happy I am that I’ve had this experience and how good I honestly feel like it’s been for me. It will impact my life forever. I don’t want to say goodbye to the people I’ve met here and to my life that I’ve had here, but like I said before, I’m blessed in the sense that I have just as great of a life to go back to.
And well, that’s the advice from a three-weeks-to-leave study abroader. There isn’t much more to say, other than the fact that this was based on my experiences. You may feel completely different. That’s the great thing about study abroad, someone could live in the same country as you, in the same city and do the exact same program and their experience will be worlds apart from how you feel.
But no matter what, you’ll love it. I promise that.