Three months ago, I was packing to study abroad. I had no idea what to expect, yet simultaneously had a million expectations. I was going to see all of Europe, travel constantly, meet tons of new people, and jump out of my comfort zone. I'm not a partier by any means, but I was determined to fully experience everything possible. After all, study abroad is the opportunity to become a totally new person.
Some of my preconceived ideas were true. I have traveled, met lots of amazing people, and certainly got out of my comfort zone. But some of my ideas were disproved. So after three months in Europe, here's what I've learned:
1. It's not so different.
England has been very similar to home in a lot of ways. There's KFC, college students wear leggings constantly, and Netflix is just the same. Within all of that, it's easy to forget that I'm abroad until I get off campus and into the city. It's surprised me how quickly I adjusted, and how quickly this place has felt like home. And then suddenly I'll be on a train, passing fields of sheep with the ruins of an ancient tower in the middle, and it'll hit me that we're not in Kansas anymore, Toto. Travelling is weird like that: you can adjust to almost anything, but some things will always surprise you.
2. You still have to study.
This might seem obvious. After all, it's study abroad. Especially in England, however, it's been difficult to stay focused. I haven't had any graded assignments yet, and my final papers are 100% of my final grades, so it's dangerously easy to slack off. On the one hand, this situation is great: I can travel on weekends and not worry about a quiz on Tuesday or a paper on Friday. Take advantage of your free time, but don't forget that it'll all come down to that final paper. And pro tip: your professors know if you've put in the effort.
3. You need less than you think you do.
Travel light. Please, God, travel light. It's so easy to rationalize those four sweaters and two pairs of jeans and a spare pair of shoes, but trust me, you'll be happier with just a backpack. For a three-day trip, I ended up taking one pair of leggings, two t-shirts, a sweater, and the clothes on my back. Wear your bulkiest clothes on the plane, and always leave room for gifts and souvenirs. Trust me: you'll buy them.
4. Things are expensive.
Admittedly, this is the same at home. But when you're in a new country, you're going to want to go into town, go to dinner, buy the macaroons from that bakery. I'm all for treating yourself: this is a once in a lifetime experience, and you have to take advantage of it while you're here. But prepare beforehand. Work hard, save up, and be careful once you're abroad. You don't need those chicken nuggets, but you're going to want the coffee at the sidewalk cafe in Paris.
5. You'll be ready to go home, but not ready to leave.
I don't know how to explain this feeling. With the holidays approaching, I'm excited to go home, curl up with my family, and enjoy my mom's pumpkin bread. But on the other hand, I can't believe I have less than two weeks left in my time here. After years spent planning and dreaming of studying abroad, the experience is almost over, and I'm certainly not ready for that. I've come to the realization that there will always be more things to do and more places to see. I could spend my entire life in Europe and still have more to experience. But I've done everything I wanted to in my limited time here, so it's time to go home.
Studying abroad is one of the greatest things you can experience. Getting out of your comfort zone can be scary, but at the end of your trip you'll be a new person. I don't want to leave, but I'm going back home with new ideas, new outlooks, and a new sense of just how huge the world is.