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5 Things You Should Know Before Studying Abroad

June 14, 2017

1. It’s going to be hard

When people reflect on study abroad experiences, they tend to emphasize the good and downplay the bad. In reality, however, it’s good to prepare for the times when everything isn’t amazing or going how you planned. The reality is, studying abroad will likely be one of the most challenging things you’ve ever done in your life. There will be times when you miss home so much you research how much plane tickets would cost and consider ending it all early. You should try, however, to push through the challenges. The rewards make it worth it, just know it won’t all be smooth sailing.

2. Things won’t necessarily be exactly how you left them

One of the lines I repeated to myself leading up to my study abroad experience was that even though I was going to be away for four months, things were going to be just how I left them when I returned. I left for my study abroad trip with two fish, two horses, a cat and a car. I’m coming home to one horse and the cat. The fish died, one of the horses was sold, and my mom got into an accident with my car. Additionally, my home university added several food locations on campus while taking away a few others. The point is, a lot can happen in a few months. While most things will be more or less the same when you return, some things will change.

3. Culture shock can affect you at any point during your experience abroad

Culture shock can occur due to big changes, like the food or the way classes are taught. It can also happen because of little changes, like habits of the local students that you might find annoying or possibly even rude. Culture shock doesn’t end after you’ve been in the country for a few months. It may lessen in severity, but it will still be there at times. My best tip for handling culture shock is to tell myself, “I find this to be annoying or rude or inconvenient, but it’s not what I’ve grown up with. This is a different culture, and they have different social norms and that is okay. It’s not my job to change this culture, and it’s not their job to change me. I can, however, learn from this experience.” While it may sound like a bit of a pathetic rationalization, it has helped me to not hold any grudges against local students who are behaving as they’ve always behaved, oblivious to the fact that their actions are bothering me.

4. Stereotypes and assumptions will be made about and against you

I don’t know if this is worse in Africa than in other places, but I do know stereotypes here about white American females have annoyed a lot of the international students. We’re not as rich as people think we are, we are capable of working hard and we probably are more interested in traveling than we are a relationship with a local student. I’ve started wearing rings on my fingers so that I can tell anyone who asks that I’m engaged so they’ll leave me alone. Additionally, people are shocked when I hand-wash my clothes to save money. While these stereotypes are more annoying than anything, I wish I’d been a bit more prepared to deal with the stereotypes when I arrived in Botswana.

5. It will all be worth it

I’ve just listed four things that might sound discouraging. The thing is, I wish I’d better prepared myself for the challenges that were going to face me before I came to Botswana. All of these things, plus a million others made living here and choosing to stay here a real challenge. As I’m writing this article, with only a few weeks left in Botswana, I’m so glad I took part in this experience and that I stuck it out until the end. I have learned so much in my time here. I’ve had incredible experiences that I’ll be talking about for the rest of my life. I’d like to think I’ve even grown up a little bit. When you study abroad and are faced with challenges and feel like you’ve been abandoned in a foreign country, the first few times you just cry. You cry in the bathroom so nobody can see you and think about how weak you are. As you spend more time abroad, however, you start to handle challenges without crying or even getting overly upset about it. You rationalize the issue, come up with a solution, and move on with your day. As my experience is drawing to a close, I feel so much stronger than I did before I left. I feel like I’ve survived a war, but with a smile on my face. Studying abroad is worth it because it will show you your own strength, provide you with unforgettable memories, and be one of the best experiences of your life.

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