Study Abroad FOMO

Claire Iverson
September 20, 2018

My first days in Milan have been a whirlwind of orientation programs, Italian classes, attempting to find the best cappuccino, and trying to get accustomed to a brand-new city, language, and culture. 

There are a lot of things here to get used to.  A city as large and varied as Milan feels difficult to get to know; there are so many different neighborhoods to explore, each with their own charms and personalities.  In such a busy and vast city, it is easy to fall into the trap of sticking to a few comfortable routines and not daring to venture beyond them.  Especially after long orientation days, it’s tempting to go home, cook dinner, and spend the rest of the night indoors.  Every once in a while, you’ll go to that café across the street when you’re coming home from class (yes, always the same one, because it’s so convenient, and you already know that their coffee is both good and affordable, so why try another one?).  And thus, the study abroad FOMO comes into play.

As students studying abroad for a semester, we are in the weird position of having simultaneously a long yet short period of time in this city.  At the beginning, we wonder how to be away for four months.  We won’t see our friends, families, pets, or multitudes of other things we know and love until the winter holiday time.  It feels like forever.  And yet, the reality of the situation is this: four months is not a long time to experience an entirely new city.  We will be back home before we know it.

This latter realization has caused me to feel guilty when I’m being lazy in the mornings or after classes.  I’m living in one of the most beautiful and important metropolitan cities in the world – shouldn’t I be out exploring and taking advantage of having the beauty of Milan right at my doorstep?  It feels necessary to always be doing something new, whether that be simply walking around the city or exploring different restaurants and cafes.

This sense of FOMO is amplified when we reach a weekend.  One incredible opportunity provided by studying abroad is the ability to explore any number of incredible nearby places.  Budget airlines and tickets priced for students make it easy to hop over to Paris or Barcelona for two days.  For example, I have already planned trips to Munich, Lucerne, and Amsterdam, and I have a few other countries to cross off my bucket list as well (Greece, anyone?).

And yet, realistically, jet-setting to every European country imaginable is neither entirely feasible nor is it practical.  I chose to study in Milan because I wanted to live in this city for the fall semester.  I want to take the time to get acquainted with what it means to be Milanese.  I don’t want to travel every weekend, but sometimes I feel a sort of compulsion to go elsewhere when I have a Friday off.  I start to become anxious when people ask me what my plans are for the weekend if the answer is “none”.  Everyone else is going somewhere exotic – shouldn’t I be trying to go to?   Shouldn’t I take advantage of being so close to all these amazing places?

Various social media platforms are great ways of memorializing and sharing your time abroad.  But these same platforms can amplify this sense of FOMO.  When I was preparing to study abroad, I looked at the Instagram pages of my close friends who had studied abroad before me.  On every one of their accounts, I saw beautiful photos of landscapes, or pictures of them in iconic cities like Berlin, Prague, and London.  Seeing photos like those makes me feel like I need to be having just as good of a time as they evidently did during my semester abroad, which most likely means travelling around to cool new cities.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with traveling around during your time abroad.  In fact, a definite allure of study abroad is the ability to expand your cultural awareness by doing just that.  Spend your Saturday someplace you’ve never been before, or someplace you may not get to visit in the future.  Interact with different types of people.  Try different cuisines.  Embrace your youth and your sense of adventure and travel away.

But there is absolutely nothing wrong with staying home, either.  Don’t let the inevitable FOMO cause you to neglect your own host city.  Use a long weekend to stray outside of your new comfort zone: head to a new café, walk home a different way than normal, try getting off at different metro stops.  Exploring Milan is just as rewarding as exploring another city may be.  You shouldn’t feel guilty when you take some time for yourself: you will not miss out on your quintessential “study abroad experience” if you spend a lazy Sunday morning cooking breakfast and reading or studying.  So to everyone studying abroad, now or in the future: remember to take the time you need or want to appreciate your host city; remember that you are still experiencing a life-changing semester abroad.  Remember to expand your comfort zone, step by step.  And most importantly, don’t let the FOMO get you down.

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Claire Iverson

<p>I am in love with many different things: with music, with languages, with literature, with cuisine, with other cultures. I study opera and international studies at two leading institutions, and am constantly trying to find the best balance between these two fields, incorporating socializing and personal time. In my spare time I love to read. I believe very passionately that connecting with other people and cultures through commonalities like food and music makes me a more developed individual, and that I am a better person because of opportunities in which this can manifest -- like studying abroad!</p>

2018 Fall
Home University:
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, MD
International Affairs
Music Performance
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