Overcome these common study abroad fears Pt. 2
If you are reading this, Congratulations! You have made it through part 1 of our discussion on the most common study abroad fears and how to overcome them.
And if you have just arrived spontaneously to this post, and have no idea what I am referring to, then…. Quick, click here!
I hope you enjoyed the first chunk of this post, and I’d like to reiterate before you continue that study abroad may be a terrifying vortex into the unknown, but do not let doubt or fear stand as obstacles in the way of pursuing this life-changing opportunity.
The advice listed in these posts stem from my own insight, or from my peers experiences who have embarked on their own journeys abroad. Although everyone experiences study abroad differently, I believe sharing these stories and learning about what other people have been through can help anyone navigate their time abroad with greater ease.
To continue now with the fourth most common fear students admit to, we move past pre-departure jitters and venture further into worries that may arise once you arrive, including...
4. Being alone in a new country and feeling homesick
Although the thought of being alone in a new country is terrifying, it is important to retrain your mindset on loneliness, because being alone abroad and being alone at home are very different scenarios.
I found that to be alone abroad is to be free. When you are in your new host country, and you are captured by this overwhelming sense of exploration and wonder, you will be so appreciative of the time you have alone. For the first time in my life, I was anonymous walking through the streets of my new city, able to be a quiet observer, able to soak in the newness of my situation. I could do the things I wanted to do, see what I wanted to see, and eat what I wanted to eat! Instead of being herded around by some tour group or class trip, I was exploring my host city on my own terms, fashioning my own relationship with its streets, buildings, and inhabitants. Instead of worrying about entertaining others around me, making impressions and keeping up conversations, I could seamlessly blend in, laying in the piazza or drinking my caffè on an outside balcony overlooking the town.
I used to dread being alone back at home. I used to cry at the thought of solitude, believing it to be isolation. But when you’re abroad, loneliness is a chance to treat yourself to the experiences you normally wouldn’t allow yourself to have. It grants you the opportunity to claim independence, in a way that you just couldn’t achieve back at home. I ate at restaurants alone, I went for long walks with my camera, I read in gardens-- I mean, these are things that I don’t do even upon my return in America. Maddie, a close friend who studied abroad in Valencia, Spain recounts her experience of being alone abroad stating, “It’s crazy because in some ways it’s so scary... but in other ways it is so freeing! It is such unique opportunity to be completely anonymous.” She participated in a homestay, so meeting other students her age was a bit more challenging than it is for most, but she embraced this situation, rather than dread it.
For many, homesickness is a very difficult barrier to breakthrough. I mean, we all experience that empty feeling of homesickness while abroad, it just tugs at everyone with varying strengths. It is so important to open up to friends on your trip about how you feel, because chances are they are going through it too. Searching for consolation from those at home can sometimes make it worse, which is why I turned to friends who were abroad as well. However, sometimes a call to mom and dad was all I needed for a sure-fire pick-me-up. Homesickness does dissipate after you spend some time abroad, and it turns into a far more manageable feeling than a state of mind.
As Sarah, a student who studied abroad in South Africa, puts it, “I was definitely worried about how different it would be. South Africa, the continent in general, is so ‘othered’ by western countries, that I worried I'd feel totally homesick. However, it's amazing what you can learn about yourself and find so comforting so far away.” Finding those little routines that bring you comfort in your temporary home is a great way to feel more acclimated. There are certain things you can do that will ease your mind, and sometimes that is just turning on Netflix to watch an episode of The Office. It is important to remember, however, that the time is fleeting and that you will return home eventually, so you might as well enjoy your once-in-a-lifetime experience. Be present in the moment and allow yourself to fall in love with your independence.
And lastly, I’d like to address a fear that will always be relevant “with all that’s going on in the world,” as friends and family stateside so graciously loved to put it...
5. Will you be safe abroad?
Danielle, a coworker who studied abroad in Spain in 2016, commented that one of her biggest fears before going abroad was not feeling safe in her host country. When I considered my safety abroad, I considered it in two categories; personal safety and climate safety. Personal safety is pretty self explanatory, but climate safety, in my mind, was what I considered to be the overall “safeness” of a location that may have larger threats than petty crime. For example: Paris, Brussels, and Istanbul, at the time I was abroad, posed a deep worry in students’ minds as they had all been the target of terrorism and large-scale violence. Although many students did not let the news hinder their chance to see these incredible places, they stayed on top of the news and were well aware of their surroundings (as much as they could be) when going. They admitted to being worried, but they made the conscious decision to visit the places despite the fear.
My dear friend, Amy, who studied abroad in Amman, Jordan in 2016 suggests “it is important to carry on and to keep traveling, but always be smart and aware of the political and social climate of the area you are visiting.” She recommends keeping up with international news, staying with a group, and knowing your limits. I would have to agree with this advice, as you never know when something can happen, but you can always prepare in case something does.
Even in Italy, I kept my guard up when traveling to Rome, especially during the holy week, as it was the center of many terrorist threats during this time. I also stayed alert when traveling to Naples, as it is known to be the epicenter of mob-related crimes in Italy. At the end of the day, I am very glad I visited both of these monumental Italian cities, as their beauty outweighed their flaws.
If you find yourself worried about your safety in your host country, the first thing you should do is arm yourself with information. Learn about the climate for international students in your city, ask the tough questions, and get information from past students, abroad advisors, and residential directors. When you are there, store all of the emergency contacts you will need on your mobile device, and collect hotel or hostel numbers as well when you are traveling. Make sure to have everyone’s cell phone number in your program as well, and be sure to collect a few phone numbers from your host family too. Having lines of contact is extremely important, and that is why I would also suggest paying for a cheap cell phone data plan while abroad. It is better to have it than to need it.
In line with staying in a group, there may be times when you find yourself leaving the restaurant or pub early, perhaps without the rest of the group. Although I do not suggest traveling alone at any point, especially at night-- just be sure to always stay in well lit areas in the case that you do. No matter what, walk with a purpose. I hated traveling in groups with ditzy people who were loud, conspicuously confused, and screaming about how lost they were (yes, this happened). If you have a GPS on, keep it hidden from others… and if you know you are lost, give yourself a moment to collect your thoughts in a store or a well lit, public area. It doesn’t help when you stick out as the confused American tourist, and to avoid that, be respectful and intentional in any way you can. Again, tourists are not always seen as targets, but it is always better to stay alert, and appear confident. I may sound a bit paranoid, but those who have gone abroad can surely agree that there is no harm in having a light sense of paranoia when traveling anywhere.
In the case of petty crimes, it is important to know that sometimes your possessions can be unexpectedly and instantaneously stripped off your person, even when you are fully aware of it. Hey, some people are just really fast and crafty! In Italy, it is easy to spot pickpockets, but I always kept an eye out when people bumped into me on the street or stopped me to ask questions in crowded, touristy areas. Never keep your money, wallet, cards or phone in your back pocket. If you are carrying a purse, make sure it is a satchel with the strap tightly fitted across your body. If you have another type of purse, just be sure to keep it close to your body and keep one hand over it for protection. When you are traveling with a backpack in a crowded area, especially in public transportation, transfer it to the front of your body so you can monitor all of the pockets. Try to avoid using outdoor ATMs and instead use an ATM inside a bank, as those machines tend to be more secure. Lastly, never get up and leave laptops, phones, or wallets out on a table in a public space, hoping others will watch out for them. You move your feet, you lose your seat… and everything you own lol.
I know, I know, many of these things seem obvious, but the problem is that one time you let your guard down. Just be sure to stay alert, and know that not everything in life is perfect. In the case that something does get stolen, remember-- it is not the end of the world! Everything is replaceable, and at the end of the day your personal safety is the most important. And in the off chance you do run into an emergency, there are a number of emergency contacts and safety resources you can find through your program, school, and embassy. Again, arm yourself with information.
I hope that this list can help alleviate at least some of your worries if you are a student looking to go abroad. And for those of you who have returned, please comment below to let the community know your experiences in overcoming your fears!
You'll conquer those fears.
I know you will.
As always, happy wandering.