As an international student in the U.S.A, I’d thought that I was at a significant advantage when it came to preparing for my study abroad experience in Spain. I know how to pack efficiently and effectively; I know how flight requirements have adjusted due to the pandemic; I know what surprises to look out for and how to keep an open mind when thrown into an environment that is completely different to what I’m used to. So, when it came to getting ready to study abroad, I was expecting a smooth, easy transition. You can imagine my surprise, then, when a couple of weeks before my departure I was hit with an overwhelming wave of FOMO—Fear of Missing Out.
For context, my study abroad programme began almost two weeks after classes started at my college in the U.S. Naturally, when my friends in the U.S. returned to campus after 4 weeks apart, my social media was flooded with reunion and ‘glad to be back’ posts; my friends meeting up; going out, playing in the snow; studying together; and generally having a good time—all without me. The reality struck me that this was how it would be for the next 4 months—my friends bonding over difficult assignments; strict professors; bad weather; and so on, while I would be halfway across the world and unable to be part of their shared experience. What I first welcomed as an extra couple of weeks of winter break to relax and prepare myself for the coming semester, became two weeks of stress, overthinking, and worrying that my friends would forget about me.
On arrival in Spain, my feelings soon changed. When I landed, and in the days after, my inbox was flooded with unexpected good-luck messages from friends and family just checking in to see how I was doing. As I met my roommate and classmates, started my orientation programme, and began exploring the city, I was pleasantly surprised to find countless ways of connecting with other people even from a distance. I began to see traits of my good friends in the new people I met; I found souvenirs, places, and incredible views that I took joy in capturing in a photo and sending to people back at home and at college, just to let them know I was thinking of them. My friends, in turn, did the same, sharing their ups and downs via texts, pictures, and videos that made me feel included and tuned-in to their lives, as they were to mine.
My biggest surprise was discovering the power of social media as a means of staying connected. Before, I have been hesitant to post to social media sites, preoccupied with superficial things like how many likes a post got or how I looked in the pictures. However, after posting my first correspondent update on Instagram, I was shocked by the overwhelming support, encouragement, and genuine excitement expressed by my friends and family as I embarked on my new adventure—and by the amount of requests to read my first blog and see more pictures! I realised that my role as a blog correspondent is also a brilliant method of tuning in with my feelings, communicating my experiences, and even of forming new friendships— through my first Instagram post, I had other study abroad students reach out to me to share their experiences and offer recommendations for the best places to visit and things to see. I even had someone from my high school (in Northern Ireland!) who, by sheer coincidence, is studying abroad in Granada this semester and lives only a few minutes from where I’m staying—and we’re meeting for tapas tomorrow night!
I’ve realised that being physically separated from my friends doesn’t sever the bonds between us, and in fact, staying in contact in small, meaningful ways is just as impactful as spending time together in person. Of course, not everyone who studies abroad might feel this way, and even for me, some days are easier than others. But what I’ve found is that the pandemic, and our long days of lockdown in the past couple of years, has actually strengthened means of communicating from a distance, and that what works with certain friends might not necessarily work with others. With some friends, it might help to schedule regular phone/video calls to stay connected; others might be satisfied with texts or photos and catching up via social media; others still might appreciate time spent studying ‘together’ (online) or watching a movie to experience some quality time together. It can take some creativity, but there are lots of ways to stay in contact and support long-distance relationships when studying abroad. It’s also important that you allow yourself to recognise and express any feelings of FOMO or loneliness that you might be experiencing abroad, be that through speaking to friends and family, journaling, blogging, or talking to a professional. From speaking to others abroad, I know now that these feelings are normal and more frequent than it might appear from the positive, ‘living my best life’ posts that are all over social media (and that I am guilty of contributing to!).
More and more, I’m also learning the value of living in the moment, appreciating my experience of a new language, a new culture, new opportunities, and new friendships. As my classes begin and I throw myself into the chaos of navigating all of these new things, I know that my friends at home and at college, although not always immediately visible, are there in the background supporting me and wishing me the best, as excited to hear my next update as I am for theirs.
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<p>Hi, I’m Sonya! I’m a junior at Bryn Mawr College, PA, and my majors are Neuroscience and Anthropology. I’m originally from Letterkenny, Ireland, but now live in Northern Ireland (when I’m not at school, of course). I love to travel, paint, swim, meet new people and try new things. This semester I’m studying abroad in Granada, Spain, and I can’t wait to share my experiences with you all!</p>