What You Don't Know (But Should Know) About Studying Abroad

What You Don't Know (But Should Know) About Studying Abroad

Here's the truth...

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If you ask anyone if they'd want to leave the country for 16 weeks to go to school, and travel on the weekends, and have a lighter course work, 9 times out of 10, they would say absolutely. Ask anyone how their experience was and you'll get answers such as "best experience of my life", "life-changing", and "so much fun, I want to go back". However, that's what is portrayed on the outside. Although studying abroad is fun, drastically life changing, and a great experience, there are some things that are often left out that I want to confess.

Culture shock is real. Nothing can really prepare you for life in another country. Most movies are filmed in the United States, and when they are filmed internationally, they only show you the most beautiful parts. Not that living in Italy isn't beautiful, but it's not all fun and games either. Trying to find oatmeal in the grocery store initially took me well over 45 minutes. Just trying to find chicken that wasn't expired was a battle in itself. Trying to order your favorite coffee without sounding too "American" is a struggle, and all of these things make you wish you could go back to being comfortable even more. Want water at a restaurant? You might as well buy a bottle of wine because it's cheaper! Want to split the check? Sorry! All of these things are so insignificant, but taken largely for granted.

Being homesick is also real. So many people I talked to about studying abroad insisted that they were "too busy" to be homesick. Yes, you are busy, but thoughts and emotions don't stop for anything. There were weekends where I was traveling, and going non-stop, but would completely break down at night because I was so homesick. Being busy definitely helps, but don't think just because you feel this way, that something is wrong with you. It is completely normal to feel uncomfortable when you are so far away from home. People struggle to confess their weaknesses, and especially if they miss home. My first week in Rome, I emailed the counseling office to get help, and they informed me that all appointments were full, and that there was a waiting list. If this doesn't show you how real it is, I don't know what could.

You will meet people from all over the world, and be put out of your comfort zone more often than not. You are the most vulnerable when you are the most uncomfortable, especially to change. Personally, looking back to August, and looking at pictures, I can't see myself the same. It sounds cheesy, but I feel like I am a completely different person today than I was in August, and rightly so. When you're abroad, away from everything you are used to, everything you are most comfortable with, and everything/everyone you love, you are practically forced to change in order to adjust. I have learned how to do things independently, like everything independently. No one is here to tell you otherwise, so everything you do is for yourself. I learned how to navigate cities alone, how to take public transportation by reading confusing maps, how to plan trips, how to get to and from airports/train stations, and how to really learn how to fend for myself, all while being exposed to a entirely new culture. For me, that is the beautiful part of studying abroad. Being able to see a different world, while completely enlightening your own.

Overall, study abroad is not what I expected. I went to countless information sessions, and spoke to over 15 people about their personal experiences abroad. After experiencing it for my self, I've realized that nothing can really prepare you for what you will experience in your time abroad, so here is just a little bit of what I think could help.

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I Visited The "Shameless" Houses And Here's Why You Shouldn't

Glamorizing a less-than-ideal way to live.
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After five hours of driving, hearing the GPS say "Turn right onto South Homan Avenue" was a blessing. My eyes peeled to the side of the road, viciously looking for what I have been driving so long for, when finally, I see it: the house from Shameless.

Shameless is a hit TV show produced by Showtime. It takes place in modern-day Southside, Chicago. The plot, while straying at times, largely revolves around the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. While a majority of the show is filmed offsite in a studio in Los Angeles, many outside scenes are filmed in Southside and the houses of the Gallagher's and side-characters are very much based on real houses.

We walked down the street, stopped in front of the two houses, took pictures and admired seeing the house in real life. It was a surreal experience and I felt out-of-place like I didn't belong there. As we prepared to leave (and see other spots from the show), a man came strolling down on his bicycle and asked how we were doing.

"Great! How are you?"

It fell silent as the man stopped in front of the Gallagher house, opened the gate, parked his bike and entered his home. We left a donation on his front porch, got back to the car and took off.

As we took the drive to downtown Chicago, something didn't sit right with me. While it was exciting to have this experience, I began to feel a sense of guilt or wrongdoing. After discussing it with my friends, I came to a sudden realization: No one should visit the "Gallagher" house.

The plot largely revolves the Gallagher family and their continual struggle with (extreme) poverty. It represents what Southside is like for so many residents. While TV shows always dramatize reality, I realized coming to this house was an exploitation of their conditions. It's entertaining to see Frank's shenanigans on TV, the emotional roller coasters characters endure and the outlandish things they have to do to survive. I didn't come here to help better their conditions, immerse myself in what their reality is or even for the donation I left: I came here for my entertainment.

Southside, Chicago is notoriously dangerous. The thefts, murders and other crimes committed on the show are not a far-fetched fantasy for many of the residents, it's a brutal reality. It's a scary way to live. Besides the Milkovich home, all the houses typically seen by tourists are occupied by homeowners. It's not a corporation or a small museum -- it's their actual property. I don't know how many visitors these homes get per day, week, month or year. Still, these homeowners have to see frequent visitors at any hour of the day, interfering with their lives. In my view, coming to their homes and taking pictures of them is a silent way of glamorizing the cycle of poverty. It's a silent way of saying we find joy in their almost unlivable conditions.

The conceit of the show is not the issue. TV shows have a way of romanticizing very negative things all the time. The issue at hand is that several visitors are privileged enough to live in a higher quality of life.

I myself experienced the desire and excitement to see the houses. I came for the experience but left with a lesson. I understand that tourism will continue to the homes of these individuals and I am aware that my grievances may not be shared with everyone -- however, I think it's important to take a step back and think about if this were your life. Would you want hundreds, potentially thousands, of people coming to your house? Would you want people to find entertainment in your lifestyle, good and bad?

I understand the experience, excitement, and fun the trip can be. While I recommend skipping the houses altogether and just head downtown, it's most important to remember to be respectful to those very individuals whose lives have been affected so deeply by Shameless.

Cover Image Credit: itsfilmedthere.com

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14 Things Not To Forget On Your Next Vacay

Every time I go on a trip I always forget at least 1 things.

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There are all sorts of things that we forget to pack when we go on vacation. How can you remember all the little details when a fun-filled trip awaits you? Not to worry! Here is a short list of items that can be easily forgotten. Pull this list up when packing for your next trip and be relieved when you haven't forgotten a thing.

1. A Phone Charger


2. Toothpaste/Toothbrush



3. Your Favorite Pillow



4. Socks/Underwear



5. Glasses/Contacts



6. Sunscreen



7. A Bathing Suit



8. Lip Balm



9. An Umbrella



10. Sunglasses



11. Money



12. Snacks



13. A Jacket



14. Extra Shampoo/Conditioner



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