10 things people don’t tell you about studying abroad

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Lauren Glasby/File

As arguably one of the best experiences of an undergraduate’s career, studying abroad is on the lists of many eager individuals. Getting requirements out of the way and exploring a new country at the same time? Honestly, what more could you want? With so many different programs offered through the UC Education Abroad Program, the world is at your fingertips. Chances are you’ve probably talked to a handful of people who have spent time abroad, each of them sharing their highlights and perhaps some advice, but there are some things that no one ever tells you about studying abroad — so here’s what we have to say:

Homesickness will hit you hard

You may consider yourself a pretty independent person (“I’m not homesick when I’m at UC Berkeley. What difference is being abroad?”). Let us tell you that being halfway across the world is going to make a bigger impact on you than you’d think. Although you may experience homesickness, there’s nothing FaceTime or a Skype session can’t fix! If anything, studying abroad will make you appreciate your family, friends and familiarity with your surroundings even more.

Money matters

Traveling within the country you are visiting can be cheap, but things will add up. Not only will the money look different, but it will also be worth a different amount (five British pounds is not the same as five American dollars). Be sure to get a travel credit card to avoid transaction fees because those will add up too. If you want foreign currency before you leave, make sure to check in with your bank to see if you need to make a special order for foreign currency. Whatever you do, don’t get your currency exchanged at the airport. You’re honestly better off doing it at an ATM once you get there.

You say potato, we say vodka

Depending on where you’ll be studying, chances are the legal drinking age will be different (and in your favor if you are underage in the United States). Studying abroad may not only be your first time exploring a new country but it may also be the first time you go to clubs and bars. Although this may be fun and exciting, make sure not to get too used to this. The next thing you know, you’ll be back in the states where you may or may not be of legal drinking age anymore.

Let’s go exploring!

Not only will you have the opportunity to explore the country where you will be studying, but you will also be able to travel to surrounding countries. Don’t be surprised when you hear about people catching a flight or a train to visit a different country over the weekend. People will tell you about all the places they went to when they were abroad but the endless list of possible destinations won’t really hit you until you’re actually abroad yourself.

Life-changing experience

“Studying abroad was definitely one of the highlights of my undergraduate experience,” says anyone who’s ever been abroad. Studying abroad in a new country sounds like a great time, but you won’t understand what people mean until you experience it for yourself. Don’t base your experience on someone else’s. Everyone’s time abroad is a little different, but the one thing that they all have in common is that they all leave having learned something new, whether that may be about themselves, the culture they’ve been immersed in or both!

New friends

The biggest worry about studying abroad that many people have is definitely in regard to making new friends. Although meeting new people can be a bit nerve-wracking, don’t forget that other people feel the same way. The types of people who want to go abroad in the first place want to explore and meet new people along the way. You’ll meet so many amazing people during your trip, guaranteed.

Work hard, play hard

Studying abroad is no joke. Make the most out of your time abroad but don’t lose sight of the main reason why you’re there in the first place. The last thing you want to do is fail your classes. There’s nothing like shooting the parents a good ol’ text saying, “Hey mom and dad, thanks for spending all that money for me to fail a class abroad!”

Personal growth

Sure, you’re going to learn something new through the program, but let’s just say that you won’t only return to UC Berkeley with a grade on your transcript and short-term knowledge about some topic. A new environment with different people and culture will push you out of your comfort zone. The most important thing you will leave the program with is having discovered something new about yourself.

Bon appétit

Considering that you’re in a different country, there will be a special cultural cuisine for you to explore. Some of the dishes may seem a little out there, but try to be open to try them! Who knows? Maybe you’ll end up really liking it. Beans and toast or escargot anyone?!

Travel bugs

Whether you’re abroad for six weeks, three months or an entire year, you’ll probably get sick at one point or another. Make sure to pack some medicine in your luggage, as certain medication might not be as easy to obtain while you’re abroad. It’s better to be safe than sorry — plus you’ll save yourself an “I told you so” from your mom.

So there you have it, the 10 things that most people won’t tell you about studying abroad. But like your mom has always said, “Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” Everyone’s experience abroad is different, so if the opportunity to study abroad arises, take it — maybe you’ll have something to add to this list or even make one of your own! Bon voyage!

Contact Allison Fong at [email protected].