Study abroad is an opportunity of a lifetime! Whether you've never left your hometown or you're a world traveler looking for a new adventure or you're returning to an old favorite region, there's always something to be gained from an immersive semester abroad.
While that all can be true, it's easy to inflate those expectations leading up to your time abroad, and sometimes those expectations can get in the way of the experience.
This is my second time studying abroad. In 2018, I was a part of CIEE's Langauge and Culture Program in Toulouse, France. Now, I return as a CIEE Alum in the Arts + Sciences Program in Seoul, South Korea. While the destinations are vastly different, I think there are some lessons that I can impart to you from my experiences.
For your reference, I'm writing from the perspective of an East Asian-American adoptee who is non-binary. I have done a decent amount of global and domestic traveling. Additionally, I'm an introvert, which I think is the most important thing I considered when writing this blog post; however, this topic is applicable for anyone who is planning to or is spending a significant amount of time in a new place.
Being in Seoul is my first time being in Asia since my adoption as an infant. I decided to study abroad to better understand the perspectives of those close to my cultural heritage as well as supplement my East Asian studies.
Knowing why you're studying abroad is an important step in fulfilling your personal expectations of the experience. I've been out of quarantine a little over a week, and I've already realized the importance of knowing yourself and your Why. If I could tell myself one thing a week ago, it would be, "You don't have to be or do things like everyone else."
This advice goes a little bit deeper than the lemurs and the cliff analogy. I think I can best explain it in terms of my own experience. For medical and personal reasons, I don't drink and thus the party scene has never appealed to me too much. So why was I—am I—feeling jealous of other students who were going out every night to bars and clubs? Why did I feel so guilty that I was wasting my study abroad experience? Note: this was week one, and I was going out each day to eat with friends and explore Sinchon. It was because I had an expectation of what—or rather who—I should be during my time abroad.
Let's just say that after one week roaming the streets of Sinchon, I was burnt out... But by recognizing this, I've been able to take a few measures to reduce fatigue and feelings of FOMO—fear of missing out.
1. Know your limits.
Much like drinking, it's important to know how many social and physical outings you can handle in a week. I've limited myself to 1-2 trips and 2-3 meals out with friends per week.
2. Know your interests.
If you don't like drinking or partying, don't think you have to do it because the party scene is glamourous or because that's where all the people are. Not super athletic? Don't force yourself to go hiking or walk everywhere. Public transport is a dream here—treat your feet to a nice airconditioned bus ride~ My general rule of thumb is this: if I didn't like it back home, I probably won't like it here.
3. Stop following everyone on social media.
I think we all know the effects of social media, but it's hard to resist its draws when you're trying to meet new people and find the best destinations. This still doesn't mean you have to follow everyone. Keeping my digital space clean has been the most rewarding during my first week in Seoul. It's reminding myself that even if someone's posting glamourous insta pics, it doesn't mean they're not homesick or struggling to communicate or are feeling connected to their peers.
All of this to say, I'm not telling you what you should or shouldn't spend your time doing, but I'm encouraging you to consider what's good for your own health and wellbeing. If you're still feeling great, continue to enjoy your time abroad! If you're feeling unfulfilled or stagnant, I encourage you to think about what may be causing that and to reach out to someone for support! I hope this helps you make the most of your time abroad, and thanks for reading~