I tossed over in bed, uncomfortable and although exhausted, unable to fully fall asleep. My phone sat beside me, vibrating from texts. I heard movement outside of my door, quick steps, and feet hitting the staircase. My frustration grew, knowing I had to be up in a few hours to drive to Slovenia for the weekend. I finally sat up, trying to see if my roommate was having trouble sleeping as well. She wasn’t in her bed. I quickly slipped on a sweatshirt and made my way downstairs.
Turning the corner into our living space I saw almost half of the people in my program huddled together around our TV. No one spoke, no one even saw me enter the room. They watched the shaky cameras, the nervous newscasters, the pictures of horrified people. They watched as Paris officials reported the numbers: 130 dead, hundreds wounded.
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was too young to understand the gravity of the situation when thousands of Americans were killed in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. But at 20 years old, sitting among my peers and witnessing destruction in a city I had left just a week before, I understood. We sat for hours. Other than texting loved ones back home to reassure them that we weren’t in France anymore, we hardly spoke, but we sat together in solitude and shock.
As the night crept towards morning I asked the group I was supposed to travel with about Slovenia. If we were going to go we had to sleep, to get rest to wake up early. A few outright said they wouldn’t travel. A couple more said their parents didn’t want them to go. And the others just seemed confused about a course of action. We ultimately decided to cancel and all retreated to our beds.
But again, I tossed and turned. I thought of sitting beneath the Eiffel Tower, swaying in a hammock and eating lavender macaroons. I thought of sipping a Moscow Mule and dancing until 2 a.m. in a nightclub off of the Champs Elysees. I thought of the Louvre, the crepes and the winding streets. And I thought of the horrendous loss of 130 people.
But I also thought of fear. I thought of terrorism, a term that had always brought to mind images of dark rooms, closed doors, and hatred. And I thought of the goal of the people who had just torn through Paris. A terrorist’s goal is to terrorize and by not traveling we were allowing them, in some ways, to win.
I spent over five more months in Europe traveling to countless countries with my friends and experiencing some of the most incredible moments of my life. Study abroad is so much more than country hopping, pub-crawls and voluntourism. Study abroad is not just about being on vacation.
The terrorism did not end in Paris. It spread to the tourism hotspots of Belgium and Istanbul and continues daily throughout the Middle East. At times, I wondered about our safety as students abroad. We live in a world where I cannot make my way through a full day without hearing about another death or attack or bombing, stretching around the entire world. I am not saying we have to abandon caution or rational action, but we must find a balance. We must find a middle line to walk, between safety and living life to the fullest without letting fear inhibit us. . . . . .
It’s obvious that saying goodbye to those that you have become close to at home and abroad is difficult. I made that very clear in my article last semester about saying goodbye to Washington College. This sentiment has a unique meaning when it comes to studying abroad.
There are a lot of emotions going on, and it can be difficult to process them, especially if you get into the wrong mindset. Processing your feelings for someone is a necessary evil for getting the most out of your relationships.
I’d like to begin by saying that none of this is set in stone and that it is based solely on my experience.
There are two categories of relationships that can be made abroad: friendship and romance. Friendship is usually easier to handle than a romance, though it can still take a toll on you.
When I was in London, I made some of the best friends and couldn’t help but wish that I could just live my life with those awesome friendships.
Everything seemed like it had fallen into place, but that is not the way life works, and sometimes the only thing you can do is accept that.
Sometimes you have to accept that even though your life seems perfect in this set-up, it may just be a set-up that’s meant to work in the short term. I know that that doesn’t sound like an answer, but it’s true for me.
If you can, make an effort to stay in contact with them, acknowledge their birthday, grab a coffee when you get the chance, even it’s once every five years.
Next, we move on to romantic relationships. Long-distance relationships are always said to be doomed to fail, so a lot of times you’ll just try to avoid getting in that relationship in the first place.
Really though, isn’t getting into a relationship the same as getting into a friendship except that there may be sex? True, sex complicates things, but that just makes coming to terms with your leaving even more important.
I have seen a lot of people start romantic relationships while abroad. In some cases, it’s just a friends with benefits type of scenario, and in other cases it’s a steady, committed relationship.
From my observations, it actually seems like the friends-with-benefits structure was more stable than the steady relationship.
The couple that I knew last semester weren’t exclusive, and while I could tell that they cared about each other and would miss each other when they left, they also established what they were and who they would be when they returned home. They live so far away from each other I think it was impossible for them to avoid the topic.
Committed relationships, on the other hand, are more complicated. In a committed relationship, you are essentially saying that this person, and no other person, is who you want to be romantically involved with. That generally means that you want to continue this exclusive relationship after you leave, and while this is not impossible, it takes a lot of communication and a lot of times ends up in heartbreak.
This may seem like an article that would be better suited for the end of the year, but that is my whole point: you shouldn’t wait until the end of the year to think about leaving.
In a study abroad situation, feelings of friendship or even romance can grow so quickly that it becomes that much more difficult to say goodbye later.
You might not think that it will happen to you, because, well, what are the chances of falling for someone halfway across the world?
But believe it or not, I told myself the same thing and I was terribly wrong. The reality is that it can happen to anyone.
Falling in love while you’re studying abroad is kind of like living in a bubble. It’s all beautiful, fine, and dandy when you’re on the inside, but eventually, when it pops, the magic fades and it’s back to reality. That’s not to say, however, that falling in love on an exchange isn’t possible or something to give up hope on.
Before you ask, yes, I am indeed a victim of the study abroad love bug. My story is long and complicated, but it’s an experience I certainly wouldn’t go back and change.
Why, you ask? The answer is twofold. You’re caught up in a whirlwind of travel, excitement, and new opportunity and through meeting numerous new people in this elated state, it’s quite likely that you’ll end up “clicking” with someone you never knew existed. Chances are, they’ll even have a wicked accent to draw you in that much easier. Before you know it you might be making up failed excuses as to why you shouldn’t start a relationship while you’re abroad, but over time (even four months abroad is enough time), you might end up changing your mind completely.
Here’s what you might want to know about falling in love abroad before you let the love bug take over:
IT CAN TEACH YOU INVALUABLE LESSONS
If you start a romantic relationship while you’re studying abroad, chances are it will be with someone from a different country. Dating someone with a different vocabulary, accent, customs, and even values can teach you a lot about not only them but yourself as well and what you value in life.
YOU’LL FALL FAST AND HARD
Studying abroad can inflict a kind of illusionary state on a person at first. You’re in a new country, experiencing new things every single day and the excitement seldom ends. This means that it can be easy to get caught up in the moment and fall for someone because you’ll be less focused on the reality of everyday life and more focused on enjoying your time and meeting new people. . . . .
Coming to Geneseo, I knew I wanted to study abroad for at least a year. I knew I wanted to go beyond my past linguistic and travel experience in Europe. This semester, I am returning from three semesters of studying abroad in Vietnam, Canada and Haiti. Study abroad has been an incredibly formative part of my undergraduate career—and my future plans—in both expected and unexpected ways.
The Global Service Learning Program in Borgne, Haiti proved to be a turning point for me. Through this program, I applied my interests in foreign language, intercultural competence and international education to connecting communities in Borgne and Geneseo. My experience in spring 2013 not only focused my academic interests, study abroad plans and career goals, but also had a lasting impact beyond that one semester. My service learning project became the design and organization of a Haitian Creole language preparation component for the course.
Immediately after the Global Service Learning Program, I knew I wanted to learn Haitian Creole and return to Borgne to help develop our program and relationship with the community. I traveled to Boston to attend the Haitian Creole Language and Culture Summer Institute, working with leading Haitian Creole scholars and collecting resources and teaching methods in order to help improve our Haitian Creole crash-course at Geneseo. As a result, I was selected to the Clinton Global Initiative University in 2015 to help support the first public library in Borgne.
In the fall of my junior year, I spent my first semester abroad in Vietnam. I went into the semester expecting a wildly new experience; one where I would learn an exotic new language. What I got was a semester where I was not only independent, but also the only native English speaker in my class. After learning Vietnamese, I could communicate with the locals and also speak to the internationals that spoke English. I met an extraordinary variety of people, both in Ho Chi Minh City and on my travels in Southeast Asia.
Perhaps the most surprising group I met in Vietnam was the Saigon Swing Cats. I had fallen in love with swing dance my freshman year, but I did not expect to find a club in Vietnam. It was a fascinating mix of locals and expatriates—mostly young professionals—gathering together to dance a vintage American dance. This is where I saw the overlap between my international interests and my dance interests. . . .
If you haven’t already left for your study abroad experience this fall, you probably will soon. And one of the first things you’ll want to do is plan trips to the other countries you want to visit while you’re there. It can be a little confusing and scary to be planning all of these on your own without the help of your parents. But it really isn’t that difficult, and I have some tips to help you figure out how to book your trips, save money, and have fun on your weekend trips!
1. It’s definitely better figure it all out early, so that you can find cheaper travel and places to stay. If you try to book a trip a couple of days before you leave, the prices will be jacked up. By that point, people are willing to pay more as long as they get the trip, so that is why businesses do that. So avoid that by planning it all out early! Beside a spontaneous trip I took to London at the end of the semester (expensive!) and my trip to Greece after school ended, all of my weekends were planned out way far in advance, and I was able to get cheaper prices because of it. When my roommate and I first went to London (the end of January, yes I did go twice), we were able to get plane tickets that were only £34! Which was like a little less than $40. And most of our flights ended up being less than $90, and our hostels were usually pretty cheap too. RyanAir tended to have the cheapest flights, so we ended up using them a lot. Just be prepared for a chaotic and slightly uncomfortable trip. It’s first come first serve in the seats so you want to get there early!
2. Using comparison sites when booking. If you use a site that shows you many options, instead of using the airline site or the airport site, then you will be able to find a better deal, for both flights and hotels/hostels. You’ll have more options, so you’ll be able to pick the one that best fits both your budget and your schedule! A good site to use isBookingBuddy, who will give you tons of choices for flights. You could save up to 50% just by using their site!
3. Know what you want to do before you get there. I wouldn’t say plan out each trip right when you book it (if you book early like I suggest), but a couple of days before you leave, you should check out which attractions you want to go. Often, if you check online, you can get discounted prices, or you can check to see if they have student discounts so you know to show your student ID at the ticket counter. Sometimes they’ll have packages for a couple of different attractions, which can save you money if you plan on going to every one of those places, but if you aren’t, then I suggest avoiding those. Some of the best things I did was free walking tours of the cities. First of all, it’s free, and walking is a great way to take in the city and figure out your way around it. Plus, the tour guide usually has lots of cool stories and things that you wouldn’t get from a bus tour. One time we even got to taste some cheese from Amsterdam. The only thing you pay for is tipping your tour guide at the end, however much you think it’s worth. You can buy tickets online so you don’t have to worry about finding out where to buy it there. So before you leave, definitely see what you want to do so you can have some sort of schedule and not completely miss what you want to do or forget a site to see.
4. Use sites like Hostelworld.com to help you get better rates on places to stay. This is how I booked all of my hostels, and I had no problem finding nice places in good areas that weren’t too expensive. They have reviews from people who actually stayed there so you can see what they say and base your decisions off of that, so you know exactly what you’re getting at your hostel. To get the lowest prices, you’ll usually be sharing a room with more than just the friends you’re traveling with, but it’s always fun to meet new people! If that makes you uncomfortable, there are private rooms, and you should be able to find a place that will have those, or room that only house 4 or 5 people in a room, for a low price. . . . .
Studying abroad is an exciting and rewarding experience, but it definitely requires a lot of research and background knowledge. When I left to go to Barcelona, I thought that I was pretty well-prepared, but I quickly realized that I was not, at all. There is a lot more to it then just going to school and having fun on the weekends (or weeknights). Here are some things you should definitely know before you leave to go abroad.
1. Make sure your credits will transfer.
This is so important. I know, I know, you already know. But, my Freshman year I knew a senior who had to take 24 credits each semester because she had studied abroad the spring of her Junior year and none of the credits transferred. You don’t want that to be you. So check, and check, and check again. Once you get there, check again. Don’t wait until you’ve come back, and your school says that you’re missing 16 credits to realize that none of them transferred.
2. Learn Military time.
This is a useful skill to have. Since pretty much every other country besides the United States goes by military time, it’s handy to know. I was pretty lucky since I have been using military time since I changed my Facebook language to English (UK), which changed all the times to military time, so I had become familiar with it. But booking plane tickets and things, everything is in military time, which can get confusing if you don’t know it. (14:00 does not equal 4pm).
3. Know some background information about your country.
It’s good to have some information about where you are staying, so you aren’t the ignorant American stereotype. Also, studying abroad is all about immersing yourself in a different culture, and learning about it, so you can have a head start if you do some research beforehand. At least know who the President or leader of the country is. Also, know what is going on politically, economically, etc. When I was in Spain, there were a lot of riots going on because of the poor economy. Frequently on my way home from class, I would see protestors walking down Passeig de Gracias. One day, a lot of teachers were cancelling classes because huge riots were taking places, and when I went to the scene after, there was graffiti and trash every where. So read up at least a little so you know current events and won’t accidentally get stuck in a riot. Or, as what happened on our first week, there was a street festival right outside, ending with a carnival! So if you have some information, you’ll know how to find these. . . . .