By: Contributor On: May 6, 2011 In: Campus Correspondents, Study Abroad Comments: 0

This post is by campus correspondent Julia Byrd, a graduate of George Washington University. Find out how you can become a campus correspondent, too!

Studying abroad is wildly fun, but it also can be an incredibly stressful experience, as you are trying to navigate a new environment without really knowing what to expect.

Everyone has completely different experiences abroad, but some things are always the same. Here are some things I wish people had told me beforehand:

Expect the Unexpected

At first, everything is completely new and you’re just surprised at everything. Depending on where you study abroad, you can see some shockingly disturbing things as well as some amazing things.

At first, none of the people in my group really knew how to handle it, but now we realize the best thing to do is just take note of it so you can tell your friends later, and then move on.

If you dwell on things, particularly the bad things that happen, and indignantly think, “This would NEVER happen in America,” then you’re really missing the whole point of going abroad.

Three Phases of Being Abroad

Phase 1 – The High. During the first week abroad you will be incredibly excited to be outside of the US and everything will be new and different, but in a good way. You’ll be like a kid in a candy store and just generally loving life and making fast friends.

Phase 2 – The Dip. After a bit, you start to get homesick, and you start hating the fact that everything is new and strange. Sometimes you just want the comforts of home — your dog, your friends, your bed — but you can’t have them. This can get rather upsetting, but it will pass!

This phase can either be really short or really long depending on what type of person you are, but everyone goes through it. For me, I had one day where I had a bit of a mini-meltdown, but then I was fine. Then again, I know some people who are still feeling this way two months in, and that’s normal sometimes, too.

Phase 3 – The Rise. This is another good phase, but the upward slope is not nearly as steep as Phase 1. Here, you’ll start to come out of your homesick state and really start to enjoy being abroad, but it won’t be quite like the beginning.

Instead of seeing everything as new and exciting and therefore good, you’ll see both the good and the bad, but you’ll accept both for what they’re worth.

Here is when you realize that study abroad is not for a lifetime, and you will be home again soon enough, so there’s no need to be homesick! In fact, most of the people I know, myself included, are starting to get depressed because we see the end and we don’t want to leave.

You will be freakishly busy!

I thought I was going to have a ton of time to talk to my friends and my family back home and that I might even get bored after a while. In fact, I think my friends from home are getting slightly annoyed with me because I haven’t been on Facebook nearly enough!

I’m actually skipping an excursion right now to write this blog post because I just need a little down time at my homestay to take a breather.

There are just so many things to do and so many people to hang out with that it can be hard to get some personal time every now and again. My advice is to take whatever time you need and don’t worry about missing out on something. You will have plenty of stories when you get back, so missing out on one more isn’t that big of a deal, especially if you end up being miserable because all you want to do is be at home in bed or having an exclusive dance party.

(Editor’s note: We don’t suggest you skip too much, though! Facebook and your bed will always be there; those cheap plane tickets or even just the piazza around the corner won’t. Savor everything.)

It will all be worth it.

I have never been so exhausted but so energized at the same time. I have never felt so depressed but yet so enthused at the same time. I have never been so horrified yet entertained by the things I’ve seen.

This is what study abroad is for me.

I feel like I have put my hand to the chest of another culture and felt its heart beat. I truly feel like I am part of this place now and that, surprisingly, it is another home.

I came expecting to be the foreigner, but I have gradually evolved into something more. I know some of you expect this already, but you really can’t understand until you feel it, so my advice is to just fearlessly throw yourself at this experience and be open to anything and everything, good or otherwise.

About Julia Byrd: Julia is a graduate of George Washington University who studied abroad at St. Petersburg State University in Russia. She double majored in Russian Language and Literature and Environmental Studies. Her interests include yoga, movies and finding warm places to travel to whenever possible.

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