Last January, I set off to spend a semester studying abroad in Barcelona. This January, I’m sick to my stomach at the thought of graduate school applications. Studying abroad is an unreal experience that only those who participate can truly understand.
As I reflect on my time abroad, I also look back and laugh at some of the biggest delusions I had before I embarked on the trip.
All study abroad alums will probably say, “Been there, done that.” And, for those who may be interested in embarking on an international learning journey, take notes.
Here are 10 expectations of studying aboard versus what actually happens:
1. Expectation: Traveling on the weekends will be easy and affordable.
Reality: This has to be the biggest misconception about the study-abroad experience. Studying abroad in Europe is the perfect opportunity to explore not just your country of stay, but also the entire continent. However, this isn’t as easy-squeezy as getting across NJ to NY state lines by taking the GW Bridge.
If you want it to be affordable, you’ll have to take a 26-hour bus ride to Switzerland. As for easy, fitting an entire unknown country, full of tons of sights and activities, into fewer than three days is an elite skill most can only hope to master by the end of their semesters abroad.
2. Expectation: Every day will be another adventure and you will not waste one second of it!
Reality: Every day is an adventure in this new city, but you are still a college student. You will carry your college student fortitudes with you from the States. (You will still get lazy even though you now live in Europe.) Some days, you might not want to do anything at all but sleep.
Many days, you will be too hungover to even think about functioning. That's okay, but don't let it become a routine.
3. Expectation: Everyone speaks English.
Reality: Most locals don't speak English, so you will have to learn to communicate in other ways. Try to pick up on the native language, even if just to understand just a few words. The locals will appreciate it, and it will help you immensely.
4. Expectation: You will develop a deep interest in the history and art of your newfound home.
Reality: You will take more field trips than time spent in the classroom because let's face it: You didn’t actually sign up to study abroad to “study." These field trips will be to some of Europe’s most extravagant museums and landmarks.
But, you also haven’t taken a field trip since middle school, and out of excitement, you will take many pictures while forgetting the meaning behind them. It’s okay.
At least you will have something to show your parents when they ask what you learned about over there.
5. Expectation: You will gain an insane amount of weight.
Reality: You will probably put on a few pounds. You are only abroad once in your life, so get the gelato with the chocolate-covered waffle as many days a week as you please.
Just take the stairs on the way back to your flat to make up for it!
6. Expectation: Siesta will be awesome. A designated time for the entire city to nap together? What's to hate?
Reality: Siesta is actually pretty inconvenient. Almost all local shops, restaurants and banks will be closed during this period of time.
If you don’t think this is a big deal, try having a class that ends at 1:45 pm, and you have hundreds of dollars in travelers checks to cash, and siesta starts at 2.
7. Expectation: You will fall in love with a local, he will take you on his Vespa and you will live happily ever after <3.
Reality: Older men will hit on you and you will think they are gross. Although it is perfectly fine to hook up with a local as part of your abroad bucket list, I wouldn’t set your heart on finding love. (It didn't work out for Lizzie and Paulo, did it??)
Although, I do know two people who found love during their semesters overseas, neither of them survived the distance.
8. Expectation: You will form amazing lifelong friendships.
Reality: You will come across many sh*ty people. The specific program I traveled through brought students together from all over the States.
I mingled with people who came from completely different upbringings than I had. Boy, did I meet some stuck-up, selfish, cliquey rude trolls.
But, staying away from those types of people left me free to stick with the awesome ones.
9. Expectation: You will never call home because you love your new life SO much.
Reality: You will have at least one mental breakdown when you call your mom crying, confused about what’s going on and what are you doing with your life, and then, you might even beg for her to come visit. Homesickness is inevitable, but it's just a phase. Get over it ASAP.
10. Expectation: Every night is a party while studying abroad.
Reality: This is one is TOTALLY true. Anyone who has traveled can vouch for the fact that Europeans party way harder than Americans do. In Europe, there's no working for the weekend or countdown until Thirsty Thursday.
In Europe, there is Opium Mondays, and Never Tell Your Boyfriend Tuesdays and Sutton Wednesdays. Every single night, there is something happening. The catch is, every night will not be a party for you. You are a student and have classwork to keep up with.
And, even if you are one of those kids who goes abroad with the intent to fail every class, your wallet and your stamina will not be able to keep up with the seven-days-a-week, European party lifestyle. If you have yet to go abroad, remember that it's okay to take it easy some nights, but be prepared for the wildest party of your life.
And, there you have it -- 10 of the most popular misconceptions about studying abroad in Europe. So, for every person who has yet to study abroad and the opportunity to do so, find out for yourself whether these check out!