When I decided to study abroad, the study abroad website and office were cluttered with all of these posters with pictures of students smiling and having the time of their lives. It is great advertisement and these moments do happen when you go abroad. But there are also moments when your hometown feels worlds away.
I was ignorant and never thought I could be sad while abroad and while the happy memories far outweigh the bad, here are the hard parts of studying abroad you should prepare yourself for:
1. You will get sick.
I very rarely get sick and have to miss classes, so I thought my health would remain perfect while abroad. Wrong! I silently suffered for weeks before I gave in and went to a hospital in the middle of the night. If you need a translator, then don't be like me calling them at midnight, and try to schedule an appointment during the day. Be prepared for different treatment and medicines. My doctor just looked at me and diagnosed me with no tests and after weeks of taking the wrong antibiotics, I only felt worse. When I had blood tests done, the woman did not wear gloves or clean anything, and I had no way of knowing if the needle was clean or not. Obviously, your experiences will be completely different than mine, but this is a real possibility depending on where you are in the world.
Make sure to talk to your study abroad program leaders and staff about what you should do if you were to get sick or need to go to the hospital. Pack any medicines you take generally that might be difficult to find in your host country. For me, I had a hard time finding medicines like Ibuprofen, and when I did they were extremely expensive. For example, if you are studying abroad Spring semester, bring allergy medicine if you normally suffer from allergies. In general, being abroad adds a lot of pressure on your body for many different reasons. Whether it's from staying up late studying or spending more time adventuring, you will be worn down and exposed to new factors that can affect your health. Drink water, get enough sleep, and don't eat unsafe foods and you should be fine.
2. You will miss home.
Missing home is the last thing many students think could possibly ever happen when they first arrive abroad. Eventually, you start to miss certain foods and things about home that you never thought possible. Everything in your new country will be absolutely amazing but there will most likely be moments when you miss a certain food or having your own room. Unfortunately, life still goes on while we are abroad and you will miss birthdays, parties, new movie releases, and all the inside jokes your friends will have without you.
Call home! Something about just hearing your parents' or friends' voices for a few minutes will make you feel much better. For me, food was the best way to feel at-home again. Whether it was going to McDonald's once a month, because that is the only American food in my host country, or making brownies, I was able to satisfy those cravings for home. You can also have your friends and family give you letters to open in case of emergencies when you feel homesick.
3. It is easy to feel out of place.
Unless you become fluent in a language and learn every square inch of your new city, chances are you will always feel a bit like a tourist. I went abroad to a country where I didn't speak any of the three languages, so ordering coffee and grocery shopping are suddenly more difficult than they should be. Some countries are so full of traditions and culture that it is nearly impossible to pick up on the etiquette. Living with a host family is one of the best ways to learn these practices as well as pick up on the language.
The best thing to do is to make friends with people who live in your host country. Most countries have plenty of people who want to try to speak English and your study abroad company might even work with a language center. When you make friends from your host country, they will show you the local cafes, help you practice your language skills, and teach you the cultural and social norms to be aware of. This is the best way to feel less like a tourist and more at-home.
4. The 'study' part of study abroad becomes too much.
When you are abroad in a new country with history and adventure around every corner, the last thing you want to do is spend hours reading your textbooks and writing essays. The workload seems to be much heavier than your normal university schedule. There are so many moments when you feel like you spend more time studying than exploring and you have a huge fear of missing out. Classes are also typically longer than what you might be used to because you have to cram so much material into a short amount of time. For example, my French classes are five hours long at a time and then I have classes after that making for 10 hours straight of classes. It is exhausting, and you realize there isn't much time to see and do everything.
The best thing to do is try to study with other students at a café so you are out and seeing new places, but also accomplishing everything you need to for the day. Depending on your program, your professors might hold class in a café or over lunch and pay for it. We even had lectures outside on the grass which helps you from feeling trapped in a classroom all day. Another, less desirable option, is to work ahead during the week so that you can have free weekends. When you book flights, you could also plan to arrive one week before the start of the program or stay a week longer just to have a vacation time to relax and explore.
These small things should not deter you away from studying abroad. I would bet it is safe to say every student who studied abroad knows at least one of these things to be true, but they are so small compared to the excitement of living in a new country. Studying abroad will be the best decision of your life and while not every second will be picture-perfect, the entire experience will be over way too soon.