Friday, December 14, 2012

THE TRUTH ABOUT STUDYING ABROAD

I've always been a fan of honesty. And honestly, studying abroad is a life changing thing no matter where you go in the world. If you have a Facebook and know anyone who is abroad then you're well acquainted with the perks. "OMG Paris for the weekend!" "Wine tasting class? Obvi!" "Soooo tired from traveling! LOL life is good!" 

Yes, studying abroad has been amazing. But if anyone has told you that its one big Eurotrip, they're missing the finer points of the experience. Somewhere in between touring the streets of Moscow, climbing the Acropolis, and biking through Amsterdam you'll find things out about yourself that you never would have expected. I don't mean to go all "soul searcher" on you but I'd be lying if I said studying abroad isn't a challenging semester despite all the amazing things you get to do too. Being in Denmark hasn't changed my affinity for list-making so I wrote up a few things that I learned along the way that I wish I'd known--or at least understood better--before leaving the states

1. Missing home does not mean you're homesick.
I really really really miss Denver and DC. But I also really really really love Copenhagen. Explaining this to friends who aren't abroad always make me feel like a spoiled brat. Yes, I'm having an incredible time in Europe but I still sometimes wish I were back home. This feeling is totally NORMAL! Just because you miss the States doesn't mean you don't appreciate the incredible opportunities you've been given. If anything, studying abroad has made me even more aware of just how lucky I am to have such amazing things to return to. I will never take my friends and life back home for granted again.
2. Not everyone will keep in touch while you're gone and that's ok.
At first this drove me crazy. I didn't want to be "that friend" who left the country and was totally MIA for four months. I actually got really frustrated when I reached out to people from home and got little or no response. Part of this stems from the fact that one of my biggest pet peeves is unanswered and unreturned calls, emails and texts. It took me a little while before I realized that I was actually the one being selfish. The world is still spinning back home and people are busy in America, too. Relationships that really matter won't have changed with time and distance. I've occasionally been pleasantly surprised by who kept in touch the best and those are the friends I'm most excited to see when I return. If you're my friend from home and you're reading this, you'd better act damn excited to see me because I can't wait to see you!
3. "Living" is different than "traveling."
Every counselor and advisor will tell you this but it won't really hit you until you feel comfortable in your new city and even then you may not be able to pinpoint the exact moment when it actually happened. I'm fortunate enough to have travelled a lot before studying abroad and was lucky to be able to continue exploring this whole semester. This difference really hit me when I got back from my first big trip to Amsterdam and I couldn't wait to curl up in my bed...in Copenhagen. You'll start calling your new city home and you'll notice differences between the places you travel and the place you're living. It's really a cool thing. If you're considering studying abroad but think you're "well traveled" and don't need it...well sorry, you're wrong. There's so much more to see and learn.
4. You'll learn more about American culture than you think.
As surprising as it sounds, I'm returning to the States with a much better understanding of what American culture is. This seemed weird at first. I'm living in Denmark, aren't I supposed to be a pseudo Dane? Well, not exactly. Have you ever felt like it's easier to solve someone else's problem than your own because you're looking in instead of out? It's the same thing with understanding cultures. While I've certainly picked up things from living in Denmark, it's much easier to look back at America and see what the exact "culture" is.
5. Never feel guilty for acting like a tourist.
I really love when people speak to me in Danish or ask me for directions because it means I look like a local. I got a new camera before leaving the States and even though I love being snap-happy, I hate looking like a tourist when I whip out my massive Nikon and start clicking away. After the newness of the city wore off, I was super conscious about looking too American or too touristy. It's definitely worthwhile to immerse yourself and respect cultural differences but at the same time, I am American and since I'm here for such a short time, I might as well embrace it and act the part. There's a balance, I think, between taking advantage of your time and aspiring to be a native. Even though I do my best to dress like a Dane, there are days where I can't be bothered to put on jeans and I venture outside in yoga pants (this is practically a cardinal sin here). You are there for a limited time so don't be afraid to indulge in the highlights like any other visitor.

The truth is this: studying abroad is one of the most amazing, adventurous, challenging, frustrating, unique, eye-opening, thought-provoking and memorable experiences you will ever have. It's a hard thing to explain to be able who haven't done it because it's such a different experience from just traveling. Luckily there are plenty of DIS kids based in DC who I'll be able to reminisce with. I have plenty of stories to entertain everyone with but I'm equally looking forward to catching up on State-side happenings.

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