I am about to embark on the journey of a lifetime…and I am scared out of my mind. My name is Una Mijatovic, and I am a third-year student at Centre College, a liberal arts school in Danville, Kentucky. Welcome to my blog page! I am so excited that you are here, and I cannot wait to use this platform to get real about the intricacies of study abroad. I am participating in the French immersion program in Nantes, France, which means that all my classes and conversations will be in French! I will even be living with a host family, so most of my social life will also require me to speak French. I am so grateful for this opportunity to learn and grow surrounded by the French culture!
The truth is, I always struggle with this time of the year. In Kentucky, most college students are already moving back into their dorm rooms and starting their academic year while I am sitting at home aimlessly and anxiously waiting for my school to go back in session, which usually isn’t until the beginning of September. This year however, the circumstances are completely different and somewhat magnified. Instead of moving into my new residence hall, I am leaving the country, my friends, and my already fulfilling college experience for a different kind of educational adventure. I am in a weird headspace where I am stressing out about packing but also haven’t really started, overwhelmed about what international travel will look like, and of course making sure that I see and hang out with everyone I can in the short time before I leave.
It is not easy trying to explain the feelings surrounding leaving for a semester abroad. After a summer of filling out countless paperwork and navigating a sea of emails, I have discovered that studying abroad is not like planning and packing for a vacation, but rather temporarily relocating your entire life. This in of itself has been daunting. Of course, there are the positive feelings that are associated with going abroad and they always significantly outweigh the negatives. After all, I would not be studying abroad, and I certainly would not be an advocate for IES Abroad if I did not believe in the enrichment of this experience. I have been dreaming of studying abroad for most of my life now and I know that it will be a time full of learning about myself, others, and the beautiful world around us.
However, it would not be fair if I didn’t state the other side of this coin, which is that the unknown awaits me, and this makes me ridiculously nervous. If I have learned anything up to this point, it is that for most people studying abroad, there is a colossal act of bravery that is required to start your new adventure—leaving your friends, your family, and everything else that is safe and comfortable about your life behind. For me personally, I fear the idea of change, and sometimes it takes diving headfirst into new situations before I can start to enjoy all the good that change brings to my life. I know there is no need to spend too much time worrying and replaying the what ifs in my head because at the end of the day, I always come out of a new situation as a better and stronger version of myself than I was before, just like I know I will after my semester in Nantes.
Nevertheless, it is totally normal to experience FOMO, more formally known as the fear of missing out, when preparing for such a big expedition like this one. I am very close with my friends and family so the thought of missing out on family dinners and movie nights or missing fun times at college with my friends is STRESSFUL! Quality time with the people I love is an important value of mine, so I thought I would share a couple of helpful tips on how to stay connected to your loved ones while studying abroad:
1. Pack your emotional support animal!
Just kidding…but I wish I wasn’t. My dog Romeo and I tried this today (see picture below) but unfortunately, my family members wouldn’t let this one fly. Instead, opt for a printed-out picture of your furry best friend that you can always keep with you.
2. Schedule regular phone/FaceTime calls!
If you know me, I LOVE to talk. I could talk for hours and hours on end without the person on the other end of the line saying a single word…just ask my boyfriend. The first people I will want to share the excitement and unknowns of my new life with will now be a six-hour time difference away from me. I have found that planning and comparing schedules with those important people that you want to keep up with helps create a sense of consistency and connection that you can maintain while abroad.
3. Make calendars/write letters together.
This is an easy and sentimental way to spend time with family, friends, or significant others before you go abroad. You can make a calendar that has all the days you will be abroad, and each day you can cross off another day together. You can also write sweet notes to the people you love, and they can do the same for you. So, when someone is having a day, they can read the letters that you wrote together!
4. Watch movies/TV shows together or play games online.
Today, it is so easy to stay connected online! You can stream the same shows or movies at the exact same time, or you can play internet games together! This is a great way to spend time with your family, friends, or partners if you have some down time and miss your people.
5. Print out photos to take with you!
I LOVE pictures, and this is such an easy way to keep your family and friends near and dear to your heart, even though you are far away! It also barely takes up any space in your luggage!
6. Remember that while you are abroad having the time of your life, your people are still living their lives, too.
Remember when I said I love to talk? Well, I am still working on myself and learning about the importance of listening. Just because I will be enjoying my time in France doesn’t mean that exciting things aren’t happening in the lives of the people that I care about back home. Remember to ask questions, show them that you care by listening, and stay generally informed on what is happening back home.
7. Don’t forget to HAVE FUN!
At the end of the day, all that your loved ones want is for you to enjoy your time abroad. Stay positive and step outside of your comfort zone because for most of us, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity! The people that care about you can’t wait to hear all about your exciting adventures, so go out there and try new things so that you have something to share with them! As poet Gwendolyn Brooks wrote “Live not for the battles won. / Live not for the end-of-the-song. / Live in the along.” That is to say, live in the moment and turn your fears into motivation!
I have learned that during the COVID-19 pandemic, it became easy to hide behind our computer screens and fall into the same complacent, daily routines of life. However, we can experience the most growth in the spaces that make us slightly uncomfortable. Because my family is from Serbia, I am used to being away from Kentucky for long periods of time and having to go without seeing my parents from time to time, but even this experience will be brand new to me. I plan to go into this and give it 100% of my energy while also taking care of my relationships back home, and you can, too! Don’t be afraid to study abroad just because you are leaving people behind. Instead, find ways to make them apart of your experience. There is a world of possibility out there, if only we are brave enough to step out of our comfort zones to experience it.
In just five short days I will begin my journey to France! Thank you for checking in and stay tuned for weekly updates here for all things travel and France! Also, follow my Instagram, @unas.adventures, for daily content. I hope to see you here again soon!
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<p>Una Mijatovic is from Lexington, Kentucky, and a junior at Centre College. She is double majoring in French and International Studies with plans to pursue a law degree. At Centre, she is involved with the Student Government Association, the Residence Life Office, the French Department, and she interns for the Human Rights Measurement Initiative. Una enjoys watching The Bachelor/Bachelorette, writing, reading, traveling, hiking, and baking. She loves learning new languages and promoting diversity and inclusion. She hopes to work in a field one day that will allow her to network with others around the world and foster peace.</p>