For my third study abroad blog I thought it would be appropriate to consider the highs and lows of my experiences. What better place to reflect on them, than where I am right now. As I write this, I’m cruising at a steady 650mph, 11,000 ft in the air over Canada. I’m half way into my 12 hour journey home from Phoenix, and headed back to my favourite Northern city of Manchester. As I sit here in my cramped economy seat, I have plenty of time to reflect on the past 5 months in Arizona, and come to terms with the fact that it has come to an end. What an experience it has been! There’s certainly been highs, and there’s certainly been lows, not forgetting the countless in-betweens. Some of these experiences have been unique to me and my situation, and others are likely applicable for many others who have embarked on a study abroad period. Whether you’ve been on a study abroad period or not, or whether you’re about to embark on one, this should be helpful to you! So here it is: the highs and lows of studying abroad (or rather, MY highs and lows of studying abroad).
Let’s start with the highs, as there are plenty more of those than there are lows!
- Experiencing a New Culture: As cliché as this sounds it really is true. I never expected that the US would have such a different culture to the UK, and in many ways it is similar. But, in others it really is not! (If you’re interested in the differences specifically, have a read of my other blog https://manchesterontheroad.com/2018/04/02/20-cultural-differences-uk-vs-us/). Experiencing a new culture first hand forces you to challenge your presuppositions head-on, and really engage with the motives and reasons for people’s beliefs and practices that may seem foreign to you. One of my absolute favourite parts of studying abroad was having really meaningful conversations with people, and asking why some things are the way that they are.
- Travel: When studying abroad, it’s likely that half of the time you won’t be ‘studying’ at all. Having several months of access to a part of the world which you may not normally be so close to is such a unique experience. Especially for me being so far away from home, I wanted to pack in as much travel as my uni timetable and budget would allow. I loved that when I was beginning to feel a little fed up with the monotony of class, I could think about my upcoming weekend trip and have a cheeky browse of TripAdvisor for things to do in the city that I was travelling to.
- A Banging Instagram: Off the back of the travelling perks comes the banging Instagram feed. My photos over the last 5 months have been significantly better, and more interesting than ever before! Whether it’s a national park, museum or beach, you’re guaranteed some enviable pics for the gram (‘@gabiprice_’ if you’re interested).
- Increasing Travel Experience: Again linking to the travel associated with studying abroad, the more frequent level of travel helps to increase your travel savviness and skills. I feel far more equipped to find a bargain flight or Airbnb now, than I did before studying abroad, and am also far more confident at planning travel to an undiscovered place without the help of my parents!
- Learning From a New Perspective: I know I previously said that half your time won’t be studying, but that was perhaps slightly exaggerated. You will of course STUDY, when you are studying abroad. College classes in the US were far different from home for me, and this provided the unique chance to learn from a different perspective. For example, I learned the art of the multiple-choice test (surprisingly, it’s not pure guesswork). Although I may not have loved that method of testing, it definitely increased my skills and broadened my academic horizons!
- Learning About Yourself: Again I know this may sound a little cringe or cliché, but for me it really was the truth. I learnt so much by being away from a comfortable environment for 5 months, and essentially being ‘on my own’ without family or long-established friends. Being far from home forces you to challenge what you’re comfortable with, and genuinely challenges the ways that you think and act. For example, an ‘epiphany’ I had about myself whilst abroad was that I don’t think I’m cut out for 9-5 life. Call me lazy, or a classical millennial, but it’s the truth. I realised that I don’t want to live my life waiting for the weekend. I want adventure and challenge, and something that enables me to explore the world and make a difference in it.
- Finding ‘Your People’ Across the Globe: This encompasses all of the other ‘highs’ that I have mentioned, and my experiences abroad would not have been the same without the people that I met. I was repeatedly told before I came abroad that I would find ‘family’ in Arizona, and I didn’t really know if that would be the case. I thought that I would definitely make some good friends, some people to spend time with whilst I was there, but I could have never imagined the deep friendships that I would make. I’m tearing up thinking about the people I have had to leave behind as I write this! I met some incredible people in Arizona, people from both the US and other places around the world. You will find ‘your people’ when abroad, and when you do you’ll leave a little bit of your heart behind with them. To all of the people reading this who I met in Arizona, you know who you are and I miss you already. (please come and visit me soon!).
Despite the abundance of ‘highs’ the ‘lows’ still exist, and that is just a part of life and a part of studying abroad.
- Missing ‘Your People’ at Home: In order to go ‘abroad’, you of course have to leave where you live. In leaving where you live, this often means leaving behind the people that live there too. I never imagined a period of my life where I wouldn’t see my mum for over 5 months, but it happened! Leaving behind friends and family will always be hard, and whether they can visit or not doesn’t change the fact that you don’t see them as often as you normally would. It’s hard, but it’s doable, and it makes you all the more grateful and excited to see them again when you return. (I cannot wait to see so many of you who will be reading this!).
- FOMO: Alongside leaving your friends and family behind, you’re leaving behind your normal life, and the things that you would usually be around for. Whether it’s genuinely exciting occasions such as weddings or birthdays, or whether it’s something as simple as being a little jealous that your flatmates are going to your favourite club without you, it’ll happen. You’ll learn to deal with it by posting fun Instagrams of what they’re missing out on.
- Running Low on Money: It doesn’t have to be a crazy expensive experience to study abroad, but if you’re travelling a fair bit, and generally just investing in fun experiences, it’ll probably set you back a bit more than a normal semester at uni would. Although this may be a worry for some people, my attitude is very much ‘enjoy it while you can’, this is a unique experience in your life which you probably won’t have again. Make the most of it!
- Not Being at Home for ‘that’ News: Last week I received some pretty sad news from home, my wonderful Grandad has passed away, and I wasn’t there to say goodbye. This hurts, and there is no easy way to deal with it. For me, I was blessed to have supportive people around me in Arizona, and to know that I was coming home very soon to be with my family. That won’t be the case for everyone who experiences ‘that’ news, and it’s hard. However, I know for me and for many others who have experienced loss whilst away from home, it shouldn’t stop you from going. My grandparents were very clear that I should enjoy my time abroad, and make the most of it regardless of if anything happened. I hope I was able to do that, and honour my Grandad the way that he would have wanted.
- Leaving ‘Your ‘Abroad’ People’: As I already mentioned, the hardest part of this whole experience was having to say goodbye to the friends that I have made. I’ve cried about it, and I’ve wished it wasn’t the reality of this situation. But it is. It is definitely a low, but it’s okay! The world is vast, but nowhere is too far away to go back to. I know that I will see those people again, and I know that this 12 hour flight won’t stop us from meeting again someday.
So to sum it up, do I regret studying abroad because of the lows? Absolutely not. The highs far outweigh the lows, and the reality of life is that you will have lows wherever you are. Studying abroad is an insanely unique experience which is like no other. You will laugh, you will cry, and will miss home. But you’ll love it, and you’ll meet incredible people around the world that you wouldn’t have met otherwise. You will broaden your horizons, and you will leave a little piece of you behind wherever you go. I could not be more thankful to have had this opportunity. To all of the people that made this experience, I just want to say thank you. Those from YoungLife ASU, my fellow foreign exchange students, my classmates, my roommates and everyone else that I met along the way, thank you from the bottom of my heart. YOU made this experience for me.
Until next time, this is me signing off! I’ll be back for another blog once I’m settled back in at home. Until then, find me on Instagram for pretty photos @gabiprice_ or message me on social media if you know me personally and want to chat about any of this.
Love, Gabi xoxo