Before I left home to study abroad in the south of France, I had certain expectations of what my experience would be like. It’s normal to think about how something as exciting as studying abroad will play out, and I’m sure you will imagine aspects of your time abroad, just as I did.
Here are some study abroad expectations vs reality that you might experience when you go overseas.
Expectation: Most of the students studying in your program will know each other already.
The possibility that most people I would be living with for the next five months would already be friends made me a little nervous, as I didn’t know a single person.
Reality: While every program is different, my group had only two people that knew each other before studying abroad. Everyone was welcoming and open to new friendships — and the two girls that knew each other before became some of my best friends during my time in France.
Overall, people who study abroad want to explore new things and make new friends, even if they came with some in tow. In the end, I think being the only one in the program from my school benefited me. If friends came with me, I don’t think I would have been able to get out of my comfort zone as much as I did. Putting myself outside of that comfort zone helped me grow as a person and realize it’s okay to experience things on your own, whether it’s as simple as taking a walk down a cobblestone street or traveling across the world.
Expectation: While abroad, you will travel to every country in your region that interests you.
Reality: One of the great things about studying abroad is that it allows you the flexibility to travel to other places that might be too expensive to otherwise visit from the U.S. While studying abroad in France, I wanted to visit every bordering country and then some. I did check off a few of my bucket list countries, but I spent far more weekends in France than I ever imagined.
CEA set up excursions for us more or less bi-weekly, including visiting nearby towns or taking day trips to villages a few hours away. All of these outings were so appealing (and were included in the program fees!) that I found myself traveling in southern France far more than I planned. If you are studying abroad, chances are you have already been bitten by the travel bug, and while it’s tempting, you don’t need to see every country that you want to visit during this experience. Instead, you can immerse yourself in the culture of your host country some weekends and travel internationally during others; you will want to save some experiences for the future as well. Taking the time to go on the excursions and stay local also helped foster friendships and figure out who would likely be easy to travel with for a longer period of time when you do take those special trips—another added bonus!
Expectation: While studying abroad will be great, it won’t change your life.
Reality: I think most students change, at least in some way, from studying abroad. Studying abroad can help you make connections in the professional world, be a boost to your résumé, alter or reinforce your career path, give you lifelong friends throughout the country and the world, or make you fall in love with a country (or even a person)! The list goes on and on, and the lasting changes will vary for everyone.
For instance, a girl from my study abroad program has now moved back to France to pursue her interest in organic farming; I met my boyfriend and another girl met her now-husband in France; the experience I had at the Cannes Film Festival through CEA enhanced my passion for a career in the film and television industry; and my friends from across the country plan visits or Skype sessions so we can keep each other up-to-date with our lives.
While most of these may not be typical outcomes for every study abroad program, I think it is safe to say that a student will return to the U.S. as a different person than when they left—perhaps as a more independent person or perhaps as a person who wants to explore both their own country and the world beyond… and, most likely of all, as a person that is grateful for an experience like this.
Stephanie Walls is from Quinnipiac University and studied abroad with CEA in the French Riviera.