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.