Life is full of clichés. And the saying about studying abroad is one of them – that it is a life-changing experience. But it’s true. All of it. All the moments, all the memories, all the magic that culminate into this great journey of a lifetime. However, my time away was not always in the sun. Like all stories, there are some challenges along the way. So I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have any regrets looking back. The major regret that will haunt me forever is not valuing time.
John Lennon was right when he said, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans”. The classes you attend, the studying you do and the assessments you complete are all part of the experience but do not consider these as the focal point of studying abroad. Otherwise, why bother spending all the time, effort and money when you could have happily studied from the safety of your home university.
A full semester abroad, the 12 to 13 weeks of living on campus, will go in a blink of an eye and you’ll only realise this right before the end. So don’t waste time with your head in a textbook. Go out and explore the world around you – do day trips, go on weekends away, have late night movie marathons, join a university society, pick up a sport, enjoy fancy dinners, have a drink or two, and most importantly, make new friends.
The friends you make are the single greatest thing about studying abroad. And the closeness of living on campus makes the friendships all the more genuine. I wasn’t quite sure if I’d meet “my people” but fortunately I found them. You spend so much of your time together that you become a family of sorts – a family of different languages, cultures and continents.
However, studying abroad has a catch. In fact, a catch-22. The closer you become with your international friends, the harder it is to say goodbye. The big scary truth I didn’t realise until too late is, for as much as I’d like, I will never see this ensemble of friends in the same place at the same time again. Ever.
This reality is hard to comprehend, and will take a while to process. But the people you care about and the ones who care about you will always be close. Just make sure you write letters, send cards, message, call, facetime, etc. because these are lifelong friendships.
So when going off to studying abroad, remember what Gandalf the Grey once said: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”