By Isabelle Lydon, Eötvös Loránd University, Budapest
As I reflect on the end of my study abroad, I was thinking about things I wish I knew before going that are not stressed enough or that nobody tells you about. I thought this would be a good post for people to read before they go. This post is completely based on my own personal experiences and encounters on my time abroad and it may be different to what you may or have experienced so please do bear this in mind.
- It’s hard.
I feel like most things you read online about doing a study abroad only focus on the positive parts and not really on the negatives. I think it’s important to be aware that there are some negatives. That’s just real life. However, I think that by acknowledging that there are some negatives, you can ultimately be more prepared. So here goes. Moving to a new country, saying goodbye to your family and friends and being miles away from home can be extremely hard at times. Don’t expect it to be easy all the time because that is not the case. I often got homesick and had situations where I just wanted to be around my friends and family but couldn’t. Also, it’s not easy to just hop on a flight and go home when you want for several reasons. It’s completely understandable to get homesick (as I mentioned in a previous blog) but just try not to underestimate this.
Making friends can be hard at times, especially if you’re only abroad for a semester. It kind of takes you back to first year where you just must put yourself out there and speak to anyone. At first, you might not get on with everyone which, believe me, can be disheartening. However, it’s okay not to get on with everyone. Just as long as you try being friendly with everyone and you will eventually find people who you really get along with. For me, I found that people that came from the same country generally tended to stick with each other. I thought this was completely fair because in reality you would be more comfortable making friends with people where you share the same first language. This didn’t really affect me as such but perhaps was just something I noticed. Although, this was not the case for everyone. I made lots of friends that were from all over Europe.
If you’re going to a country where English is not the first language, this can also be difficult. In Budapest, I was extremely fortunate that the majority of people spoke English. I thought this was amazing as everyone spoke about two or three different languages. I tried learning Hungarian but it’s one of the most difficult languages to learn and as someone who is not great with languages to begin with, this did not go very well. However, as I mentioned, everyone spoke English, so I coped pretty well. There were a couple of occasions in person where I struggled with the language barrier, but it was quickly rectified through google translate. In the supermarkets as well sometimes it’s hard reading the ingredients and labels. This might be more of an issue if you have an allergy. However, the google app is perfect for this because you can take a picture of a text and it will translate it for you.
Finally, it is important to take some personal time. I’m the type of person who needs at least an hour to myself every day to recharge and do my own thing. Constantly being around people is inevitably going to take its toll and your social battery is going to be drained so if you just take a little bit of time every day to yourself. I think this ensures that you don’t completely burn out.
2. Cultural Differences
I was surprised to find that there wasn’t so much of a culture shock in Hungary. To be honest I wasn’t really sure what I was expecting, having never been to Hungary before Erasmus, but there aren’t that many big cultural differences. I’d say the main things for me personally were supermarkets. I felt like, while I managed to get mostly everything that I would eat typically at home, the supermarkets in England have a lot more and are easier to get around. But this might just be me being picky.
I noticed that in Hungary, people don’t really smile at each other on the street. This isn’t me saying that Hungarian people are unfriendly because they’re not. I’ve met so many lovely Hungarians. But I felt like, for me personally, I’m the type of person that usually smiles at people on the street and I just don’t think that’s really a thing in Budapest. I kind of just put this down to cultural differences to be honest and could be something to bear in mind whilst you’re on your year abroad.
3. It can be lonely.
Perhaps this links with the above points but at times it can be lonely. Like I said before, you’re in a country where your miles away from home and you don’t really know anyone. If you don’t get on with the people in your house (which I met a lot of people who genuinely didn’t) or you’re living alone, you probably will get lonely at times. It’s important though not to let this ruin your time. You just have to make more of an effort with people that you do get on with and see yourself being friends with. Get involved with the events the university runs because you will likely meet people who are in a similar situation as you. Also, if you have a particular hobby you enjoy look into whether there are clubs for that at the university or in the city.
I think I slightly underestimated how much money I was going to spend on Erasmus so definitely over-budget if you can especially if you want to take any trips. Also, when you’re there, you want to make the most of it as much as you can so inevitably, you’re bound to spend more than you initially think – or I did in this case. This just meant I had to work loads when I went home for Christmas and Easter, but it was worth it. Also, this probably depends on how good you are at saving and spending money. I’m really bad at saving so perhaps this was just my experience. However, do not be worried. My Erasmus+ grant and student loan did cover a lot. It was just the extra things like taking trips that it didn’t cover.
5. Pack Light
One piece of advice I don’t think is stressed enough is how light you need to pack. I brought so many unnecessary things and clothes that I never used or wore, and they just took up loads of space in my suitcase. You don’t know how much stuff you’re going to bring back with you. Most of my friends had to buy extra 20kg suitcases to bring their stuff back home when the year was finished! Some of them even ended up having to donate bags of clothes to charity shops because they simply couldn’t fit them in. To avoid this, just remember to pack light. However, if you do find yourself struggling to fit all your things in when you’re packing to go home, definitely google charity shops nearby that accept donations. I feel this is a better, more ethical approach to just simply leaving clothes or binning them.
6. HOW HARD IT IS LEAVING
I think this is my most important point. Nobody tells you how hard it is leaving the year abroad. My friends and I honestly cried for a week straight because of how sad we were and how much we will miss each other and Budapest. I cried all morning my friends left to go to the airport and go home. It will be so sad and strange not spending literally every day together and continuing our academic journeys in different countries. Nevertheless, I have made lifelong friends. Living in Hungary and being part of such a diverse student network allowed me to connect with wonderful, kind, and unique people. I am going to miss them terribly, but I look forward to keeping in touch with everyone. I am eternally grateful for the experience and the times I had in Hungary and can honestly say it has been one of the best years of my life (the hardships included).