I’ve learned a lot about myself studying abroad—mainly because I keep finding myself in unusual situations that require me to apply actual brainpower. Studying abroad is like being a freshman in college all over again: I don’t know anything, my environment is completely different than the one I am used to, all of my friends back home keep posting photos that make me miss them, and I have to find all of the good places to eat within walking distance that are open past midnight.
But the great part about studying abroad is that—I’ve already survived that! Freshman year was terrible for me in many ways, but if naïve, eighteen-year-old Clare could get through a year in a strange city without adult supervision, then twenty-year-old Clare should also be able to accomplish that. It’s like moving from the “easy” level setting on a video game to the “moderate” setting: sure, everything is slightly more complicated and the worst-case scenario is that you’ll get deported, but there’s really nothing too unfamiliar about the adjustment period. And once the adjustment period is over, it’s just a regular semester at college—except, of course, that everybody has Australian accents and you can take trips to feed baby kangaroos and occasionally you end up in Asia. So, like college, but way cooler. Which is what I think study abroad was supposed to be!
To return to my original point, I have learned a few things about myself that I think can be broadly applied to anyone living in a study abroad situation. A few tips: walk a careful line between paranoid and friendly. Yes, this is an opportunity to make friends, but trust your instincts while meeting people. If you are planning to study in Australia, you can eat kangaroo, crocodile, and wallaby meat. But when you see kangaroos and wallabies after eating them, you will probably feel bad. I certainly did. Finally, do not freak out when things go wrong, because things always go wrong when traveling. Generally, if you keep a cool head and ask for information/directions/advice from locals, you will end up where you need to be.