I just finished my semester in South Korea and, now that I’m back at home, I feel I have a newfound perspective about the experience. I’d like to share some of my thoughts and reflections about studying abroad to help you or anyone else make the decision to go abroad or prepare for your future abroad experience.
- Homesickness is real, but it’s part of the experience and it will get better.
As a pretty emotional and sentimental person, I certainly experienced some homesickness. This was especially true because I was in a place very different from what I had grown up with: Seoul is a big city in Asia, but I come from the suburban United States. Life in the Western world and the Eastern world is really different culturally, and the language barrier is tough, too. All of this together, made me feel somewhat isolated. But that feeling went with time. As I got closer with new friends and got used to the rhythm of urban life, everything got better. I started really feeling at home. It felt like I had truly adjusted, and that was a big accomplishment. I was almost glad that I felt so out of place at first because the realization that I finally felt in my comfort zone seemed like a really big deal, like something to be proud of.
- I wish I had been more outgoing in the first few weeks.
I’ll be honest—the initial few weeks of your study abroad can be a little rough. For me, it was hard because I came alone and I had to make all new friends. I had a bit of a social anxiety going in, and I think at some points this prevented me from really putting myself out there. I got tired of meeting so many new people all the time. It was so exhausting that I began to shelter myself because I was afraid of rejection and I was feeling very overwhelmed by the small talk. I realized later that, by avoiding some social events and being shy, I had missed out on opportunities to make new friends and connect with new people. I ended up having a smaller social circle than I would’ve liked. In the future, I think I want to hold myself back less and try to strike up friendships with as many people as I can. Even if it doesn’t work out, I’d rather have tried and failed then to have not tried at all.
- I’m so happy that I did things by myself even when no one else was around.
We’re conditioned to be afraid of doing things alone. People who go to the movies alone or eat out by themselves are sometimes branded as losers or seen as lonely people without any friends. But I think we, as a society, need to get rid of these preconceptions. Doing things alone, especially while you’re abroad, can be truly liberating. The reality of studying abroad is that you will have a good amount of time to yourself. For me, I had less schoolwork than I usually have and a lot more free time, but there were not always people around to keep me company. So that’s why I chose to do things alone. I went on hikes alone, I went out to eat alone, I went shopping alone, I explored historical sites and museums alone. And it was amazing! I found that I really loved my own company. I enjoyed sitting with my thoughts and getting to know myself. I realized what I actually liked to do and didn’t like to do—because I wasn’t just mindlessly saying yes to other people’s propositions. I had so much freedom to do the activities that I actually wanted to do and it was truly an amazing experience. I also got to listen to podcasts and music and learn about the environment around me in a way that wouldn’t have been possible if I was with someone else. I could spend as long as I wanted, or as little time as I wanted, in an exhibit, restaurant or park. I was able to explore neighborhoods that most people wouldn’t even think of going to. Yes, at times, it was lonely, I’ll admit that, but not all the time. I ended up really enjoying myself and finding out a lot more about who I was.
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My name is Sarah and I'm a student at Rice University. I'm a double major in history and anthropology, and I love to read and write. My favorite hobbies are walking around cities and trying new coffee shops!