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The Study Abroad Slump: An Introspective Reflection

Zach Cohen
November 29, 2016

During the previous semester of college at Occidental, a single month went by slowly.  This summer, my two months in D.C. passed by a little quicker.  Now, after three whole months of being abroad, I find myself shocked at how fast it has gone.  I vividly remember every second of my first day, and yet now I have but a few short weeks until I return home.  I remember anxiously writing the words for my first blog post, and I can hardly believe everything that I have experienced now.

It’s hard to put into words how I feel.  This has been a whirlwind semester, of new experiences, new foods, new friends, new problems, and new knowledge.  I’m grateful to be here and exhilarated that I made the choice to go abroad.  For the first two months, I was unequivocally happy.  Happy to have a break from the stress of Occidental, happy to be gaining a newfound sense of independence, and happy to be traveling to new and amazing places.  

And yet...the high that I felt then never quite came back.  The excitement of living abroad has to some extents dwindled into a monotony - sometimes I find myself missing home, missing my friends, missing my school.  Even after exciting field trips and personal weekend outings, I find myself overwhelmed and wanting to simply do nothing - but then having trouble balancing my alone time with time exploring.  I have been all over the continent, but I still worry if I have spent too much time in my room and too little experiencing the world around me.  

That’s what they don’t tell you about being abroad (actually, they did a great job explaining this at Occidental but I wanted to write a dramatic sentence regardless).  You’ll ask your friends how their time was, and there is no other answer than “Amazing!”  And yet underneath, it’s much more complex than that.  It gets exhausting.


But - that’s not bad.  It’s part of the process.


I sometimes get worried I’m not going out of my comfort zone enough here; but at the same time I’ve been out of my comfort zone the whole time.  Different people have different experiences, and for me, who had never even been apart from my twin brother before coming here, I’ve been dealt a level of independence that many others in my program have had for several years now.  And if I look at where I was three months ago, compared to today, I know that I have changed for the better, and that the long-term positives of being abroad will outweigh any temporary negatives.

My advice for any future abroad-students:  the most important thing is your mindset.  The more that you think you are having a disappointing experience, the more let down you will be.  If you frame your last few weeks as a countdown to returning home, then you will forget to enjoy your country while you can.  These mindsets have been bouncing around my head, and it’s quite frustrating, but the best way to counter this is simply with positivity.  Remind yourself to be present.  Remind yourself to enjoy the little things.  Eat at the student cafeteria.  Take a walk in the nearby park.  Getting to know your city doesn’t have to be a slew of endless exciting adventures; it can be as simple as a croissant at the corner store.

In my first blog post, I wrote “At the end of my study abroad experience, I expect that Freiburg will feel like my home and that everything will be superb.”  I find myself drawn back to that statement, questioning its validity.  Is everything superb?  Is Freiburg my home?  The answers are unclear.  But life doesn’t always work out perfectly, and who knows how I will feel after the next few weeks.  All I know is that I am going to make the most of the rest of my time here, because regardless of my current slump, I will miss Freiburg once I’m gone.

Zach Cohen

<p>Hello! &nbsp;My name is Zach and I am so happy you are here! &nbsp;I grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and am currently a Junior at Occidental College, where I am double-majoring in History and International Relations. &nbsp;I&#39;m fascinated by the connections between the past and the present, and the role that history plays in modern diplomacy. &nbsp;Be sure to keep up with my travels as I explore Freiburg and the European Union this semester!</p>

2016 Fall
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