The 5 Inevitable Stages of Emotion You'll Experience While Studying Abroad

Student Work
by Dayana Aleksandrova Dec 8, 2015

Stage 1: Complete and utter excitement

Hello, friends! You can’t wait to meet everyone at your new school. You feel like a rockstar when someone actually knows your name wants to ask you questions about where you’re from (“Does it rain in Bulgaria?” Or: “Is Banitsa a type of exotic monkey?” You love and welcome it all.

How to deal: Just enjoy the excitement while it lasts. And try not to get insulted when the questions do get a little old, like “do you have electricity in _____ (insert home country)?” Because remember, not everyone has had the chance to travel internationally the way you have. Try everything new, but pace yourself, because…

Stage 2: Enter culture shock

You expected it to some extent, but maybe not this much. You might need to get used to the car culture of New Hampshire, where you ride a big, yellow bus for 59 minutes every morning. Or while in Frankfurt you’re on your own, and have to find the safest 15-minute walk to get to school. Sure, you were aware that 21 is the legal drinking age in the US, but seriously, you can’t go clubbing as a college sophomore?! Then there’s so much more to make sense of: Peanut butter? Twinkies? The Mexican food obsession? The Big Gulp at 7-Eleven?

How to deal: The more you absorb, the better. Fully embrace clubbing until dawn followed by churros and chocolate in Madrid, or the vigorous team spirit of the New England Patriots fans in Boston. The quirks of this new culture don’t have to become permanent characteristics of yours, but they should be fun and part your main goal — to put yourself in someone else’s shoes for a year.

Stage 3: Winter blues

With Christmas and New Year’s approaching, you’re going to miss your family more than ever. Plus, you’re now stuck in a routine of pre-calc homework and boring senior thesis assignments. You keep seeing more Facebook posts from your friends back home and wish you were there, celebrating birthdays and going on sushi dates.

How to deal: It’s totally okay to miss where you’re from. Use WhatsApp, Skype, Facebook and Snapchat to stay updated on what your friends are up to. Shamelessly ask your mom to send you a care package, complete with three jars of Nutella and packaged prosciutto (thank God border patrol let that one slide). If you’ve come to your new country via an exchange student agency — like YFU, CHA or Erasmus — try to go on one their holiday trips like to Madrid or NYC.

And also, try to remember that this is your time to meet and nurture your friendships with new people, your friends and family will still be waiting for you when you get home.

Stage 4: Spring awakening

The 2 meters-high snow pile in Boston is gone and you feel restless, like a hamster trapped in a wheel, jumping at every opportunity to get involved with new things. Track team? Hell yeah! Sorority mixers? Right on! It finally feels like you’re able to wake up from your winter hibernation and you’re bursting with energy and desire to make these last few weeks count.

How to deal: It’s simple, go nuts. You don’t have much time left, so take that opportunity to go zip lining in Costa Rica, hike to the Buddhist ruins in Sri Lanka, brunch the hell out in SoHo. What is the place you’re studying known for? Go out and do it because you might not be back for awhile.

Stage 5: Gift wrapping and the pre-departure chaos

Oh my God, you leave in two weeks. On one hand, you’re frantically trying to fit in everything you didn’t get a chance to do, but on the other hand, the thought of leaving your new friends, family and newfound home is becoming more and more real. You’re buying corny “I <3 NYC” sweatshirts and negotiating with Delta for a 4-for-1 discount on your suitcases. How to deal: Reflect on the essence of the study abroad year — it’s not meant to last forever. And regardless of this being the end, it will always be a unique and transformative part of your story. Trust that you will stay in touch with your new friends, social media makes it hard not to, and here’s the bonus: your friends from home will hang on every word of your travel stories. So, enjoy your new rockstar status.

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