But First...Realization

Isabella Madruga headshot
Isabella Madruga
August 31, 2023
A picture of redwoods from a groundseye view.

Wait…I’m Actually Studying Abroad?!

This is one of the most common thoughts I’ve been having the last two weeks that I’m still in the United States of America. The first time this realization hit was on the day of class registration at my home university, when everybody got up at seven in the morning to register for classes, and I was able to sleep through the morning. When I went to my first class, everybody was chattering and asking each other how registration went and what classes they got into. Every time somebody asked me, I felt my heart sink at the thought that I had missed registration, and then that funny-not-so-funny realization would hit: I wouldn’t be there next semester. 

This realization kept hitting me like a ton of bricks throughout the rest of the semester and summer. Any time somebody would say “I’m so excited for this in the fall,” I’d have to remember that I wouldn’t be there to experience it. In the summer, every time I got an email from IES Abroad, it was another reminder that I was studying abroad, that it was real, not some fantasy that I had. The process was so easy (made easy by my school and especially IES Abroad) that it was easy to forget that I ever applied in the first place. 

But then everything started to get serious. I got the name and email of my host family. I got the address of where I’d be staying and searched it up on Google Earth, where I saw the house I’d be staying in for the next four months. “I’m leaving September 3rd” turned into “I’m leaving next week” which turned into “I’m leaving Sunday,” the latter giving me chills the first time I said it. My dreamy tone of voice whenever I’d say “yeah, I’m studying abroad in Japan for a whole semester” turned into something nervous. 

However, this feeling didn't last long. Friends are going to be your biggest support system throughout this process of realization. They will highlight all the cool things about what you’re going to do, and they will constantly remind you why you’re studying abroad in the first place. My main reason for studying abroad that I listed in my IES Abroad application was that I wanted to get to know people different from me. I wanted to experience a culture so unlike my own, I’d have culture shock, but that shock would only strengthen my worldview and make me much more educated and tolerant of other cultures. 

Overall, I just wanted to talk to people, and my friends never let me forget it. Any time I expressed nerves about speaking Japanese, they’d point out, “But you’ve been studying it for a whole year.” If I talked about being nervous to speak to the locals, they’d reply, “But that’s the main reason you wanted to study abroad.” I’d be centered immediately, and I’d be emboldened by my decision to study abroad.


Another way I’m shaking the pre-departure jitters is by preparing. Shopping for clothes, ordering travel essentials, printing documents, preparing piles of clothes and toiletries, etc. are all ways that ground me and make the elusive idea of “studying abroad” real. I am going to Japan. I am not going to wake up from a dream. 



I am holding two blue American Eagle bags.


Step one was shopping for clothes. Since I would probably be an XXXL in Japan, it was imperative that I bought everything I need—summer, autumn, and winter clothes—in America. American Eagle, thrift stores, Costco—any store was fair game. I also found gifts for my host family on this trip, which is of utmost importance! The remote control car I bought for my little host brother may take up 1/3 of my luggage, but it's all worth it. 

Last-Minute Goodbyes


Three girls in a row smiling at the camera.


Spending time with friends knowing you're going abroad is certainly cathartic, but it's nice to leave on a good note. They'll also be quick to remind you that you'll see them again very soon! It especially helps if you did something so fun during that hangout (like watching critically acclaimed film Barbie) that you'll be treasuring it all those three months later. 


A BeReal showing me in the corner and my cat on the main screen.


It's particularly difficult to say goodbye to your family and your pets, but pets have no concept of time (at least my dumb dogs don't) and your host family will treat you so well that it'll be a home away from home. Despite the time difference, I am prepared to fully block out chunks of time whenever available to speak to my family abroad.

Savoring My Area


A picture of the sunset in San Francisco.


Being born in San Francisco, I have immense pride in my city. After moving over an hour away, my visits became sparse; however, this didn't stop me from visiting it as many times as possible this summer. Since I've lived all over the Bay Area, I made sure to explore it, including visiting my childhood library, driving down the roads I drove as a high schooler, and eating at child me's favorite restaurants that I haven't been to in over ten years. 


It's a Thursday, and I leave on Sunday. At this point, I'm ready. The nerves have passed. I chose to do this, and I am so, so excited to get to know my new home for four months. All this to say that: nerves are normal. That sinking realization is normal. You do not, and cannot, be excited about studying abroad all the time. It's going to be tough, it's going to be a shock, but I know that it'll be the most life-changing experience ever. And I wouldn't change it for the world. 

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Isabella Madruga headshot

Isabella Madruga

I am a senior at Johns Hopkins University studying Writing Seminars (a fancy way of saying creative writing) and Sociology. My main goal in life is to be an author, so when I'm not scrolling on TikTok, I'm writing stories, reading, and daydreaming.

2023 Fall
Home University:
Johns Hopkins University
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