What Nobody Tells You about Studying Abroad

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We all know that studying abroad is exciting. Packing your bags and going to a completely new country alone seems quite badass. 

I remember telling my friends and relatives that I was going to Japan and they all congratulated me. 

I felt quite good about myself actually, thinking that soon I will be in complete control of my life, speaking a foreign language and eating foreign food. And no one at home will ever understand what a life I’m having.

It was all fun and games until my honeymoon period ended. It was a month after my arrival and it still lasts until today. 

Every foreign student’s gangsta until they realise the naked truth about studying abroad. Here are things I wish someone told me before I left Vietnam feeling all gangsta.

Girl feeling lonely while studying abroad
Image by Dzana Serdarevic

Yes you will make friends and all. You will have all kinds of new things and places to explore. But soon the new will become the norm and turn into the old. 

When new places become normal places, new friends become social friends, what’s left is just you trying to figure out what to feel.

There will be time when you feel slowed down, dispirited, melancholy and homesick and then lonely. Loneliness will come and go, but don’t think you will get rid of it.

You will feel a bit lonely walking down the street realising nobody looks and acts like you. 

You will feel a bit lonely when local people speak a bit more slowly because they see that you are foreign.

You will feel a bit lonely when you call mom and she didn’t pick up

You will feel a bit lonely when your local friends start speaking in their language in front of you.

You will feel a bit lonely waking up alone after the college party.

But you will feel less lonely knowing you’re not the only one feeling that way

That traveling is tiring

Girl sleeping on the train traveling
Image by Abbie Bernet

Packing your whole life into 2 luggages. Thinking about currency exchange. What electronic devices to bring. How many pairs of shoes to take. Going to the airport on time. How to get to your new school from the airport. Unpacking and organising your room. Buying things for your new life. Dealing with jet lag. 

You will have to commit to that once you go study abroad. 

Pack and unpack, move in move out, buy and sell things, running to the airport,… all of that every time you go home for a break.

I wish school taught us all the skills required for that, but no they teach us chemistry instead.

That adulthood hits the hardest

Okay you might have an idea what adulthood means before you study abroad. 

But let me tell you, my friend, studying abroad is the time when you will truly learn how to be an adult. And it will hit quite hard.

Mum won’t be around forcing you to eat well, teachers won’t remind you to do your homework. 

You will have to get used to buying medicine and going to the hospital on your own, keeping track of how much money you’ve spent, taking care of your own study, social life and finance. 

I remember feeling so exhausted and frustrated having to go to Japanese hospital alone and not understanding a word the doctor said while being sick af. I literally wanted to go back to my mom’s tummy because fuck adulthood.

Doing finance while studying abroad
Image by Kelly Sikkema

The language barrier

If only I could count how many problems I got myself into just because of the language barrier, whether it’s work related or friendship or even relationship.

Studying abroad means you live a bilingual if not multilingual life. I couldn’t make any Japanese friends because my Japanese wasn’t good and neither was their English. 

And even if everybody speaks English, we always have different levels and some might not be able to speak that well. 

People misunderstand me all the time, not only because we are at different English levels, but also because different cultures might use language differently.

you can live without a sim card

Japan is a country where whatever you do, you need a phone number. But I survived there for a year without a sim card. It was just too complicated to apply for one and I figured I didn’t really need it since most of communication happened online. 

You probably won’t need a sim card to call or text others nowadays. 

Studying abroad taught me that I don’t need a sim card, because even if I could call local people, I can’t speak Japanese to them anyway.

That it’s hard to make friends, but they will be your life-time friends

3 best friends in Japan

The thing about study abroad is that you will have lots of international friends. It’s quite cool to have friends with different cultures and backgrounds.

But with the same reason, it’s not that cool. 

Cultural differences and language barrier will make it hard for you to find friends that you can actually connect with.

It took me years to find my amazing friends that I’m so proud and grateful to have. They always come at the most random and unexpected moments. But it was worth the waiting. 

Once you are friends, both of you will share lots of beautiful memories as well as go through the same problems of being young, foreign and a bit dumb.

So if you’re reading this, Fernanda, Pjotr, Weronika, Greg, I love you so so much.

That you will always overpack

I don’t care what packing essential post you have read and followed online. I don’t care if you are a minimalist or not. I also don’t care if you are convinced that you will need all the stuff that you bring abroad. You will overpack.

I don’t know for some reasons, no matter how few kilograms my airline allow me to bring, no matter how stressed out I am about how little I could bring. I always end up bringing things I don’t need.

“Oh I definitely need these shorts, the summer there will be hot”

“I will bring all these jackets and shoes because I won’t waste my money on clothes there”

“I might take these notebooks with me, you know, college student”

Yeah let me get this straight, you will spend lots of money buying clothes there. You will buy more shorts, shirts and jackets because they look so good or just because you’re excited. But don’t worry, there are lots of tips which you can use to save money abroad

It happens and that’s okay. I just want to let you know this so you won’t stress out if you can only bring 30kg on board

Packing for studying abroad
Image by Anete Lūsiņa

That you will have reverse culture shock

After going through all the culture shock you could possibly get in the foreign country, you will get used to it and be just fine.

You find more and more things you could fall in love with during your study abroad. And there are a few good things you might take for granted. You will only realise this when you come home and get hit again by reverse culture shock.

That is when something about home shocks you a bit because you are too used to the life abroad. This is when you know you’re a bit too foreign for home.

Japan seems to have spoiled me too much with their amazing service and now I can’t go anywhere without being so offended of how nobody bows and smiles when I walk in a goddamn restaurant.

I also forgot how nasty simple service like bank, hospital and city hall in other country could be. I was too used to all the smiles and bows and “お客様、少々お待ちください”.

That everyone at home just doesn’t get it

Before you know it, you have probably become the annoying person who couldn’t shut up about “When I was studying abroad, bla bla”

If not, you will probably feel it, that friends and family at home just don’t get it. They didn’t have such a mind-opening experience like you. They don’t know all the good and bad things about Japan, they haven’t traveled around Europe and made open-minded friends like you.

It might feel a bit isolated sometimes at home, because admit it or not, you’re a bit foreign for home now.

Here you are, welcome to the life of a foreign student.

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3 thoughts on “What Nobody Tells You about Studying Abroad”

  1. thank you so much for being honest in this post.
    studying abroad isn’t fun, but I believe that it’s worth the experience.
    thanks for sharing this awesome post!

  2. such an eye-opening blog. looking forward to my experience as an international student and upon reading this, i just figured: no regrets.

  3. I love that you shared your story. I was never brave enough to study abroad but the experiences have to amazing but scary! Especially the loneliness and language barrier issues. And like Bella said above NO REGRETS!

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