What It's Really Like To Study Abroad: Stages Every Foreign Student Goes Through
This guest post was written by Minh Thu Hoang of the blog, That Foreign Girl.
Studying abroad is one of the most iconic experiences anyone can have. Packing your whole life into 2 suitcases, going to completely different countries on your own, and building your new life with new friends, new culture, new food, and new language is surely not an easy thing.
But if you are willing to get out of your comfort zone, to adapt and face yourself, studying abroad will be one of the most amazing experiences that will change your life for the better.
Although different countries will give you different experiences, and everyone has their own viewpoint, these are all the stages that I’m sure every foreign student can relate to.
The Scream Of Joy Over The Acceptance Letter
That’s it, all of your sweats and tears over the application, the motivation essay, and the interview have paid off. You have worked so hard on this and you deserve it.
The feeling of being accepted is just indescribable. Now you start to imagine your new life ahead. It literally gives you chills thinking how many cool things are waiting for you there. You will meet lots of cool people. Who knows maybe you will even meet your future partner there.
I like to imagine all kinds of things, from what I will wear on the first day of school to how I will meet my best friends there.
After being congratulated by friends and family, you just sort of drown in a fantasy of your own future. Isn’t it so bright already?
The Awkward and Frustrating Wait Before Leaving
It’s like the night before the school trip but it’s several months instead. You will relive that same excitement until it all fades and you realize you have to wait for a few more months before your departure. Everybody around is kinda done congratulating you, but yet you’re still around waiting to leave.
Especially with the nightmare of visa applications which is very scary and difficult in some countries, it just feels endless like “Why can’t I just leave alreadyyyy?”
Normally you won’t feel nostalgic or melancholic until your last minutes in your country when you realize you won’t see your family and friends in a long time. But the nostalgia will soon be replaced by the excitement of finally leaving.
The Honeymoon Period
This is when you just arrive and start settling down. It just feels like a vacation but with more freedom, you adore every little thing you see and are amazed by the smallest thing.
When I first arrived in Japan, I just couldn’t stop going to every convenience store and looking at every single ice cream there. I was so amazed by how everything is so well designed and cute. I was even so excited looking at the vending machines.
The meeting new people part was so much fun too. I felt so welcomed and accepted. For a while, I forgot about all my troubles and just genuinely enjoyed being there.
First Bump After the Honeymoon
This might come at different times for different people, but everyone has to go through it.
This is when you feel homesick and lonely more and more often. All the friends you made while you all were too excited to think about your compatibility are now just like strangers again. Everyone starts to settle in and becomes a bit less friendly. You stop looking at the new place through rose-tinted glass and realize this place is not that much better than home.
Even though you want to adapt to the new culture, there are still some aspects of it that you don’t like. Even though the local people are friendly, you still see a big wall between you and them. You are different and foreign, admit it or not, you can’t blend in.
Some people get stuck in this period for a longer time than others. It took me 6 months to get used to Japan because there are so many things about its culture that don’t suit me and I study Japanese society and culture in school so I have to discuss the bad and abnormal things about Japan all the time, which made it harder for me to accept Japan for how it is.
The Settling In
Generally, you are kinda over the homesick nights and start knowing what’s up and accepting the country as it is. You will find yourself settling down and actually making friends. Things are not exciting anymore but it’s for sure easier to breathe.
When you settle in and start having your life together, you will find this country just as normal as your home. You no longer feel like you are in a whole new world. That’s when you are bicultural, you can see the good and bad in both cultures and understand them both better than some natives and people in your country.
Here is also the time when you make the best memories with the best people. You start traveling and learning more about different cultures with your like-minded friends. Life starts to feel like an adventure, you love being young, carefree, and adventurous. You might go through relationships and friendships as you grow as a person, but life feels really fulfilling because you have lots of stories to tell now.
The Reverse Honeymoon
When you first go back home, you will feel like you’re on a vacation again. You will be fascinated by little things in the home country that you took for granted before. You can’t stop eating your home food and you feel a bit like a celebrity yourself knowing that everyone at home misses you so much.
My mom literally picked me up from the airport and welcomed me home like a celebrity. The first thing I ate once I landed in Vietnam was Pho. I literally felt like a tourist eating Pho for the first time. Mom missed me so much that she cooked the most elaborate dishes she could for me. I ended up gaining so much weight.
The Reverse Culture Shock
The thing is, the longer you stay, the bigger part of your life would be over there and the more foreign you will feel at home. Now that you are bicultural, you see things about your native people that you were ignorant of before. You start comparing the 2 cultures and eventually, you will feel like a foreigner in your own hometown.
You Learn A Lot
This might take a long time but you will finally realize what a valuable experience studying abroad has been. It allows you to look at the world from different perspectives. You get to learn about a new country and realize things about yours. Studying abroad gives you a global perspective which helps you appreciate your own culture and accept its shortcomings.
Most importantly though, you will learn a lot about yourself, about who you are as a person and where you stand. I have grown so much since the day I left my country and I never regret it. Studying abroad is such a unique experience and I honestly think it’s something that everyone should try.
Minh Thu Hoang is the founder of That Foreign Girl, a blog dedicated to personal growth and the life of a foreign student. She writes about her knowledge and experience of being young and away from home. Check out her blog posts to find out about study abroad tips, financial management for foreign students, scholarships, and more. Subscribe to her newsletter and follow her on Pinterest to receive That Foreign Girl’s newest tips and tricks on studying abroad and personal growth.