Week 16: Ten Things I Learned Abroad
I learned a lot being abroad. I learned about the world, about people, about life and definitely about myself.
1. THE WORLD IS A VERY BIG PLACE…
And yet it can be so small at the same time. I have been lucky enough to travel a fair bit in my life, especially in the past few years but even then I don’t think I had grasped just how big the world is. It wasn’t until I had spent months becoming close to people from every corner of the globe and learning about their lives and their experiences in this world that I even had an idea of just how big it is. That being said, it can also be shocking how small it can feel at times. For example, one night I met someone in a McDonald’s who happened to be friends with a girl from my city in Canada (which isn’t a big city), now living in Ireland. Also my best friend, Angelica, from Brazil happened to be from the very same neighborhood as my Brazilian friend from my college in Canada. It can be easy to get caught up in our own lives and forget about the rest of the world, then one day you’ll find yourself sitting in a pub with your friends from Korea, Brazil, Switzerland or Zimbabwe with a glimpse into the many ways of our world.
2. IT’S OKAY TO MISS HOME…
But not too much. You’re in an all new place, creating exciting new memories you MUST remember this when you begin to feel homesick. BUT of course you’re going to miss your friends and family. It’s never easy to up and leave your everyday life. With that said, please don’t get there and spend all of your time hibernating and dwelling on missing home. The longer you spend in your room feeling homesick the harder it is going to be for you to get out and see the world and experience those incredible, life changing events you traveled all that distance to see. If you ask me the first few days are freebies because you’re alone, everything is new and you will most likely be jet lagged. After that you should start to get out, check out the town, maybe do a day trip somewhere. Of course you’re also allowed a day here and there when you might feel especially down and just need a good chat with someone back home. Have a nice video call with a friend/family member and don’t give it anymore head space after that.
3. TRAVELLING ALONE CAN BE THE BEST KIND OF TRAVELLING.
I’ve discussed this in previous posts but I am still blown away by how marvelous and eye-opening travelling alone is. As great as it can be to travel and do these exciting things with other people, when you go somewhere alone it becomes a completely different experience. It allows you to fully take in your surroundings and soak up the energy and atmosphere as you see it, without interruptions. As I have said many times before and probably to everyone I know; if you have never been in the middle of an incredible, wondrous space with simply the company of your own perception and awareness, I highly recommend it.
4. SAVE MONEY WHEREVER YOU CAN!
You should always budget before you leave for any amount of time abroad, however there is always a chance you could come across unexpected costs. Expect the unexpected and budget for extra costs. There are many ways you can save money while abroad, some I should have figured out a little sooner and others I got pretty good at. Make as many meals as you can! That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a nice meal out every once in a while, but try to limit it as much as possible. I made most of my meals at home and in the process learned to cook a few more dishes. Do some research and find the cheap, student-priced grocery stores in your city and buy items on sale! Skip the late night take-out/fast food as often as you can. This is something I was not good at. If you find yourself living right in the city center near all the McDonald’s and take-out restaurants, like I was, it might be a bit harder so work on your will power! Budget for nights out. It’s easy to go out and go a little crazy forgetting the cost of a drink, so set a limit for yourself or be the designated supervisor every so often. Get a bike or walk, instead of taking the bus or a taxi. You can always find little ways to save a buck or two, and believe me in the end you’ll be thanking yourself!
5. DON’T BE AFRAID TO MAKE FRIENDS.
And I don’t just mean afraid to put yourself out there but don’t be afraid to make friends in fear of leaving them at the end of your time abroad. I won’t lie and say has been easy but I met some of the most incredible people I have ever known while studying abroad. Even though I won’t be with them forever I know I will have them as friends forever and I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to spend 4 crazy months with them.
6. IT IS POSSIBLE TO BALANCE SCHOOL AND A CRAZY EXCITING LIFE ABROAD.
It’s scary to start school in a whole new environment and it can be intimidating. Then you get there and make all these great new friends and worry that you might focus on social activities too much and your academics will suffer or you might focus on school work and your social life will dissipate. This doesn’t have to be the case. A huge part of it is good time management and attendance. I took 3 university classes at Galway Business School and an online course through Georgian while I was in Ireland. My classes at GBS consisted of 6 people, all from different countries. For me, I enjoyed my classes and looked forward to attending, which always helps. First off, go to class. Easy. Secondly, set aside the time to work on assignments and study. If you are struggling with a concept/topic make time to sit down and work it out, there is no use in going to class if you don’t know what is going on. When I had assignments coming up I would designate a certain amount of hours, on specific days throughout the week to make sure I was putting the work in so I didn’t find myself scrambling to get it done and missing out on social activities. This way I could enjoy going out with my friends and I could get my assignments done in a timely manner (usually before the due date so there was no last minute stress). It can be hard when you don’t want to suffer from FOMO (fear of missing out), so it’s a good idea to plan outings with your friends on days you know you aren’t working on school work. Take it from someone who managed to have fun and be successful in school abroad, it IS doable!
7. HOME-MADE MEALS ARE AWESOME.
If you’re like me and someone in your family cooks a fantastic meal every day, listen up. This is something many of us take for granted. I’ve always enjoyed a meal being cooked for me but I didn’t quite understand just how fantastic is was until I found myself standing in the kitchen staring blankly into the abyss, (also known as the fridge) wondering what on Earth I was going to make today. I don’t mind cooking all that much, so it wasn’t all bad but at the end of a long day when you’re exhausted and all you want is that delicious casserole your mom makes, you start to appreciate every single home-made meal you’ve ever had. So…shout out to my Mom for 19 years of fantastic home-made meals and to my Dad for a killer spaghetti.
8. MAKE THE BEST OF EVERYDAY AND ENJOY EVERY MOMENT.
It’s not every day you get to go abroad and it is important to remember that. It is easy to let a bad day get you down just like any bad day you might have at home, but don’t forget you’re only there for so long and bad days aren’t worthy of your time. The months will fly by and before you know it you’ll be on a plane back home. So when you look back on your trip you want to remember that you enjoyed every single second and didn’t waste any time. Even if you’ve planned this amazing trip and you find yourself standing there in the rain when you’re sure the forecast predicted sun, smile and have the time of your life. Time is precious and these days will be some of the best of your life so make the most of them.
9. TAKE PHOTOS!!
This is SO important! As easy as it sounds to “take pictures”, it can be difficult if you are the kind of person who likes to just take in the moment. I promise you it is worth every second of your time! There is no better way to relive that beautiful moment you spent on the top of a mountain or staring out at the sun setting over the ocean. The pictures I took on my trip are just as precious to me as the moments themselves are. So please if you care about your future self at all, you will take all the pictures your camera can take!
10. ABOUT MYSELF.
Going abroad can be one of the scariest and most exciting things you’ll ever do. Landing in a completely unfamiliar country and having to find my way through the darkness alone in brand new circumstances forced me to gained more independence and confidence. Of course there are always people like the school staff, family and friends there to help you but a lot of things you will go through on your own. It’s amazing how much you can learn about yourself when you are navigating your way through a whole new world on your own. You will have lots of new experiences- some good experiences, some bad but how you handle and cope with these experiences is all part of your own self-discovery. I know it can sound corny but my time abroad has had a priceless personal impact on my life. It has helped me see and understand more about who I am and where I want to be in life. So I have to thank the people I met on this trip and all the places I’ve been in Ireland for helping me discover myself and making this experience what it was for me.