Studying abroad is one of the most unique, gratifying, and daunting experiences you will experience in your college career. It is so much more than just relaxing on the beach and sipping cocktails at night (as long as you’re of drinking age, of course). Like most students, I did not expect much more of my time abroad and saw it as a means to escape the trials and trivialities of everyday life.
So, I became an ambassador because I wanted to set the record straight. I felt as though I had a lot of insight and information to share about my study abroad experience that might otherwise go unheard. Mainly, I wanted to help students in the same position that I once was—afraid yet eager, and completely unaware of what studying abroad actually entails.
So here’s what I think students should know:
First and foremost, traveling is a thrill-ride. After traveling non-stop for five months in Australia and getting my first real taste of freedom, my connection with myself and the world around me was at its peak. I never before felt so at peace with the person I am, and more so, the person that I am becoming.
But I felt this way only after a significant period of adjustment. I had not taken into account how hard it might be to feel comfortable in my new surroundings. Even something as mundane as taking the train could be a bewildering unfamiliarity.
I expected my anxiety to go away when I went abroad, but if you’re an anxious person like me, that just isn’t going to happen. To this I say, that’s okay. Your anxiety is completely and totally normal. It’s part of the process. Just think of all of the new challenges you are facing: a new language or new colloquialisms, different surroundings, new people, yet to be made travel plans, etc. It’s a lot to take in.
But it’s okay. These challenges, once overcome, are what will make your abroad experience that much more enriching. On that note, I’d like to talk just a bit more about the challenges you might find yourself faced with:
When you’re abroad, you’ll be eager to see and do everything. What you might not have really thought about beforehand is how much planning this entails. If you plan to do a lot of traveling, you will have to make all of those arrangements for yourself.
That means booking your flights, hostels or homes to stay at, and any additional activities you may want to pursue. Additionally, you’re going to want to find travel companions to accompany you on your journey. This might not be as easy as you would think—people have different destinations and “top to-do’s” in mind.
And that’s okay. This is an individual experience; so don’t let that get you down. The best advice I can give is to be open-minded and flexible. Some people might want to travel on tours with paid packages, and some might want to go backpacking and rent a car. Tours offer security and less planning and you have a built-in group of friends with whom you’ll see and do unbelievable (likely touristy) things. Backpacking is more of a “choose your own adventure” that can offer more freedom yet requires more precision when it comes to planning. Do whatever you think will be more enjoyable and don’t worry about what others are doing. Remember, this is your experience, not theirs.
I found doing both enabled me to see all of the sites I wanted to see. I joined a tour and traveled the Eastern coast of Australia with people from all over the world and I had the time of my life. I also quite enjoyed more laid-back weekend getaways with a couple of friends. And sometimes, the best days are the ones you have to yourself to explore on your own. Fly alone to a neighboring state (as long as you’re careful!), take a solo trip to the beach, or go on a hike in the nearby forest. For me, there was no better feeling than to be alone in nature and to gaze in awe at the beauty surrounding me.
Another thing to consider is money. Traveling is expensive and it can be stressful to divvy enough money for your excursions in addition to groceries and nights at bars, but don’t deprive yourself. Absolutely, spend less where you can, but also, don’t be that person who won’t go to a restaurant because you don’t want to spend money on a burger. When else in your life can you spend half the year doing virtually nothing besides traveling? When else will spend time with people from all over the world, or build campfires with cute Australian boys? Now is the time to live it up.
It will be scary and difficult at times and this is what most people don’t tell you about your time abroad. That’s why it has been my mission as an ambassador to make sure that students are prepared for the obstacles they will face. I certainly faced many, but, I also chose to be an ambassador to encourage students to go for it because despite and perhaps because of the obstacles you will face, you will come away with an adventure that you will treasure for a lifetime.
You learn to be independent. You learn that there is so much more to life than what it seems while you’re here in your Binghamton bubble. Like me, you’ll learn to let your hair down—you’ll swim with the turtles and dare to jump out of a plane. You’ll acquire a newly found strength and sense of clarity. You’ll learn to be alone and to be okay with that.
So, find adventure in the ordinary and completely give yourself to the moment. If you do this, I promise that no matter what, you will have the most incredible time of your life.
Katie Kravat, a Study Abroad Student Ambassador, who studied abroad in Sydney, Australia in spring 2015