Study abroad : Expectations vs. Reality – Delphine Martineau

For my first article, I wanted to address a question that you might ask yourself when you study abroad: what is it going to be like? What should I expect?

This might seem like a silly question at first because most people share the same vision of this experience. Of course, you are here to enjoy touristic places, party hard with your new friends from all over the world and do as much as possible in the short amount of time you have on your hands. What we get here is the picture that most people will expect when you will say you have studied abroad… But you know what? Let’s just be egocentric for once ! What is your personal vision for this time away from your home country, your family and friends?

How easy it is to just follow the trend and end up saying yes to everything without wondering if this is really what you had envisioned. I have quickly realised that different people have different ways of approaching this experience: some want to travel as much as possible because they come from outside of Europe, while others want to live like real Londoners and discover every neighbourhood of the city, some want full immersion into British culture and try hard to make British friends, whilst others, on the contrary, only stay with their friends from back home who are also studying abroad. Talking about friends, do not force yourself if you do not find many of them at first because you already came with the best one: yourself !

Unfortunately, your personal desires will not be the only parameters to take into account and it is about time I uncover an ugly truth about studying abroad: as surprising as it may sound, study in the “study abroad experience” is not just an empty word. From time to time it is a real struggle to find a good balance between working on your modules and enjoying your life in this new city with your friends. On top of that, it is a fact that is rarely mentioned but one that among incoming students we all know too well. Friday night, 10:30pm, one of my friends who is now studying abroad in Canada is not out having drinks with her friends. Instead she is stuck in her university library working on assessments. How frustrating !

Why should it be sad though? Sure, going out partying seems more fun than staying in a library reading books for your class but here is the raw reality. This is a very important part of the study abroad experience. Discovering new ways of teaching, new approaches to higher education and different perspectives on your subject shaped partly by the national culture of your new country. In case this is not convincing to you, the promise of going out with your friends after having completed your work might be a great source of motivation. This very part of the article might have been written in an attempt to give myself the much needed boost to start my midterm assessments, you never know…

Another cloud to your new exotic horizon I wanted to mention: managing your budget. In such a context, you feel like saying yes to everything because you sense that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Can you feel the pressure yet? I certainly can, but let’s be honest, if you consider the time and money available to you it becomes obvious that you will not be able to do everything. The sooner you make peace with this idea, the more fulfilling your study abroad experience will be.

Needless to say that figuring out what your goals are is a constant work in progress and you should not put pressure on yourself if your life here seems a bit blurry and disorganised because this is exactly what makes it magical ! Enjoy that sense of freedom to make this experience what you want it to be and embrace the less glamorous aspects of the study abroad life because they bring spice to the experience as well.

Now kiddos keep the three Ds in mind: Don’t pretend to be someone else just to make friends, Don’t pressure yourself into doing stereotypical erasmus things to look cool but Don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone if you feel like it.

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