“It was the greatest time of my life!”
*insert additional stereotypical quote about study abroad*
We’ve all heard it before, and if we’re being honest a lot of us who have been fortunate enough to study abroad have probably contributed to this stereotype as well.
However, this paints an incredibly unrealistic picture of what going abroad for a semester is truly like for many.
For some, it isn’t the greatest time of their lives.
Amidst all of the posts claiming it to be so, some can’t help but sit there and think, “why didn’t I have an experience like that?”
Hospital beds instead of beach cabanas?
Return home to find everything has changed?
Maybe study abroad wasn’t that bad, or it simply wasn’t what you were expecting. Maybe it was your worst semester to date. Whatever your study abroad story is, here’s how to turn a not-so-spectacular-semester into incredible life lessons.
Say Goodbye to Guilt
In addition to a crappy semester, there’s the guilt. You might feel guilty for not feeling happiness in some of the most beautiful places on earth. Guilty that you kept your parents up almost every night back home for fear they might have to come get you. Guilty for not being able to enjoy what everyone tells you will be the best experience you’ve ever had. Guilt is the first thing that needs to go, and it starts by letting go of other’s expectations. So what if people say it should be the greatest thing that’s happened to you? Ultimately it’s your experience, not theirs.
Look Forward, Not Backward
No one can change what happened or how the semester played out, so why make yourself miserable thinking about it? Yes, there are a thousand and one “what if” scenarios to mull over, but ultimately the what ifs don’t matter. What matters is what you do moving forward. In the grand scheme of things, four months of your life is a mere blip in time. There is so much life left after study abroad (and arguably college in general) that it would be a shame for it to really be “the best experience of your life.” Focus your eyes forward, keep your chin high, and set your goals high.
It’s easy to think everyone else had it easy when all you do is look through their pictures. Pictures may be worth a thousand words, but they definitely don’t tell the whole story. The girl posting pics of partying in Spain? She lost her credit card AND passport at the club. How about the bikini-clad Facebook friend sipping fruity drinks on the beach? Her boyfriend just broke up with her and she’s knocking back a few to forget. Whenever you see posts about “the greatest four months of my life” just know that there’s always more to the story. People only share the “highlight reel” of the good times, when in reality no one’s story is ever that picture perfect. Remember: comparison is the thief of joy (Theodore Roosevelt).
Give Yourself Some Perspective
Perspective in any situation makes all of the difference
Took a solo trip without a travel buddy? Props on being courageous enough to go alone.
Foreign love broke your heart? There will forever be more fish in the sea (and 7 seas to choose from!)
Struggled with health the whole semester? Chances are you learned the ins and outs of a foreign medical system. Look at it this way – you’re now confident to handle any personal medical situation, even if it occurs outside your home country.
It might seem like your life went up in flames, and that’s definitely one way to view the situation. Another way is to flip your experiences upside down and tell yourself this – I learned so much more from the hard times than I ever would have if things went as planned.
Don’t forget to appreciate the journey
Being away from home makes you appreciate the insignificant things so much more. Maybe you realized upon your return home that there were parts of your life you didn’t even know you could miss, but you did dearly. For example: your favorite study spot in the library, or the fresh flowers your mom always picks from her garden.
Dealing with hardship makes you more attune to routines in your life that have the capacity to bring you so much joy. Yes, your home campus might not have palm trees or an on-campus bar, but then again do you really want all of that all the time?
Appreciate what you had, but appreciate what you have more.
Talk About It
When people ask about your experience, be honest. For example, say it wasn’t what you were expecting, but you learned more than you ever thought you would.
There will forever be assumptions about what study abroad “should” be like, but is that really what the experience was for you?
Newsflash: not everyone who has ever studied abroad in the history of the world has enjoyed every minute of it. Share your story! Start a conversation about the issues you had…who knows, maybe it will help prepare others for similar challenges.
As Maya Watson once said, “Learning is a gift – even when pain is your teacher.”
Image via Taylor Thoman