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...


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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To The Girl Who Hasn't Been Herself Lately

Your spark return, and you will shine like you were meant to.

Life gets tough. Life gets too much to handle sometimes, and those times make you stronger. However, right now, it seems like you have lost yourself.

It’s difficult when you catch yourself not being you. When you do something or act a certain way and just wonder, “what did I do to deserve this? Why is this happening? When will it get better?” The way you’re feeling is not so much that you’re unhappy, you just feel weird.

Your day will come. I promise you. This is just a phase.

The day you realize how much you have grown from this point in time will be your reward. It is so hard to see now, and I feel your pain.

Your light will return to you. Your pure bliss moments, they are seeking you. Your laughter where your tummy aches is in your reach.

Our moods change far too often for us as humans to understand why, but the encounters you make every day have this effect on us.

You must remember the pure happiness you experienced before your first heartbreak, before the first friend became someone you thought they weren’t, before you lost your innocence. That was a time of true joy as you had not a care in the world for the things that would harm you. Better yet, you didn’t have the option to experience them because you were just a child.

The world can be an ugly place, and your attitude towards life can change every day. One thing is for certain: you did not lose who you are internally. We all put on a face for the world. For the people who we try to impress. For the life we want to live. For the things we want to achieve.

Your definitive personality is still in the works. Believe it or not, it always will be. Times like this change us for the better even though we can’t see it.

Your happiness will return. You will be a better, stronger version of you. In fact, you will be the best version of you yet.

Once this phase is over, you will be okay. This I promise you.

Cover Image Credit: Megan Sutton

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5 Ways My Mission Trip To Jamaica Changed The Way That I See The World

One love, one heart


This past summer, I traveled to Kingston, Jamaica with 20 of the graduating seniors from my high school class, where we worked with the Mustard Seed Communities and visited different locations where they housed children and adults with special needs. This was truly a life-changing experience and I am so thankful I was able to go because I learned lots of different things about myself, as well as the world.

1.  I don't have it bad at all

Kate Tulenko

It's true that everyone goes through struggles in their everyday life. I found myself struggling a lot last year, but when I went to Jamaica, I learned that I do not have it bad at all. I have so many blessings in my life that I take for granted, and the kids in Jamaica really made that clear to me. Now, I see my life through a more positive lens and remember that anything bad happening to me really isn't as bad as it seems.

2.  It's so easy to love others, despite their flaws

Kate Tulenko

Lots of people in the world judge others based on their appearance or reputation. But in Jamaica, the caretakers and children loved each other despite their flaws. It was truly beautiful to see so much love in one place where there was no judgment or hatred at all.

3.  Singing makes everything better

Kate Tulenko

It's true! Whenever my friends and I would sing songs with the residents, no matter how their days were going, it would put the biggest smile on everyone's faces. There was not a frown in the room, which was amazing to see. Honestly, I still get these songs stuck in my head sometimes.

4.  A smile can change someone's day

This is Moses, he had such a big heart and we would always dance together

Kate Tulenko

Some of the residents we worked with were scared of us when we first saw them, but when we smiled at them, their wall immediately came down and they were suddenly so happy to see us and spend time with us. This is true back at home too—if you smile at anyone, it instantly changes their mood and makes them so much happier.

5.  Giving to others is more rewarding than giving to yourself

Kate Tulenko

When I was in Jamaica, I wore these bracelets and hair ties around my wrist when we visited one of the elementary schools at the Mustard seed. When we were playing with the little kids, they begged me to give them a bracelet or a hair tie. This was interesting to me, because I thought to myself, "What's so special about a string bracelet?" But when I gave it to the little girl, she was so happy and thankful for it that it made me feel wonderful to give it to her. This trip was truly life-changing and I would go back to Kingston, Jamaica to be with these little kiddos a million times over again.

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