Advice From a Broad, Abroad
Now that I’ve been abroad for almost three months, I am an expert about all things Europe. Lucky for you, I want to impart some of my wisdom on those who are abroad now, about to go abroad this summer or those who want to or wished they enlightened themselves in Europe, just like me.
Even though I poked fun at abroad braggarts this time last year, I was fully expecting to be the same way. I had already been to Europe before this January and really wasn’t expecting a major culture shock. I already knew that there would be a bidet in my bathroom and that the Spanish siesta can be really annoying, especially when it’s 4 p.m. and all I want is a chocolate croissant (I guess I did kind of turn into a walking #whitegirlprob), and that tips at restaurants don’t exist but service is way slow and no one is in a rush. Also, waiters give more stink eyes than should be permissible.
But obviously when I got here, the first two weeks were a blur of anxiety, nausea, and total inebriation. I essentially came here alone (knew a couple “friends of a friend”, etc). My Spanish was rusty, to put it nicely, and I was an ocean away from any sort of Taco Bell, so I was kind of a mess. Walking into someone’s home who does not speak your language when you’re completely jet lagged and exhausted is the most surreal thing ever. I remember thinking that all I wanted was to lock myself in a room and cry for hours screaming, “WHAT HAVE I DONEEEEEE” — this reaction coming from someone who thought they totally had their shit together. I had to go through the entire process of awkwardly making friends, introducing myself, worst of all telling people I was from New Jersey. This obviously was miserable because no one ever wants to repeat freshman year ice breakers and here I was forced to do them in another language.
As expected, I made some friends, we got drunk, and most of the awkwardness faded away quickly. Everyone else is also in the same neurotic boat, and trying to navigate a city together brings people together.
But still, even among all the partying and conversation blunders and fried mystery meats, what kept racking my brain was the idea that I wasn’t having enough fun. I constantly badger my boyfriend with questions like, “Am I doing this abroad thing all wrong?” or “I feel like I should be having more fun” and “I feel guilty that I’m not having super crazy fun times always, but I’m just really tired and kind of want to stay in. Is that bad? Am I ruining everything and not making the most of my time here?” I wave my neurotic flag pretty high.
And every time he assures me that no, of course I’m not ruining anything and that there’s no “right” way to be abroad, the voices of my friends ring in my head: “You’re going to LOVE it. I had the time of MY LIFE. Oh my god you HAVE to go to beerfest, I’ll be so mad if you don’t.” I constantly see stautses about being “Rome Sick” or “Being me back to Barcaaaaaa” and wonder, “Am I not close enough with my ‘abroad friends’?” or “maybe something is wrong with me? Do I hate it here? How could I be the ONLY person that isn’t OBSESSED with Seville?”
Even more ridiculous are my thoughts like, “What are people going to think if I don’t post an album from a different country every weekend? My Instagrams are starting to all look the same. I’m letting my people down!” Of course, this subsided and I got over what I presumed was the status quo and realized that I should do what I want abroad, not what was expected. Studying abroad actually wasn’t this big race to see how many countries I could see in my four short months here, which is exactly what I preceived it as before coming here. So maybe I didn’t see every country in the European Union, but when everyone complained about delayed flights or bad space cake trips I was happy that I didn’t pressure myself into a trip just for travel’s sake.
What I’m learning is that nothing about my experience is abnormal. It’s okay to wish you were at home every time some drunk old man is in your face telling you how beautiful you are or when you go to the supermarket and they can only offer you these weird ass tampons that totally suck. It’s okay to miss your family, but you shouldn’t feel guilty that you’re having fun abroad. Everyone feels like that too. Just because you aren’t racking 97 likes on every one of your Instagrams doesn’t mean you’re failing at abroad or not making people jealous enough. Everyone is happy for you that you’re having a good time. And if we’re being honest, those people who never admit to being unhappy EVER while being abroad have those feelings too — they’re just not sharing them. We all feel this millennial pressure to be having the BEST time ever with the BEST people look at me having fun let me post more pictures, like my album, comment on my status, did you see my new cover photo, etc.
My advice to those abroad is this: It’s okay to be homesick, or realize that your abroad experience isn’t everything you imagined. What’s important is to do what you want, when you want, how you want. Chances are you’ll be able to find someone with the same wants as you and most likely make a new friend out of it. It’s okay to not want to do all the same things or same trips or see the same sights at the same time as your other friends. Everyone is entitled to their own wants. Don’t feel obligated. Also, it’s okay to be homesick. It’s okay to miss a daylong or a shitty Redifer brunch. Yes, of course you’re abroad and that’s amazing, but you don’t have to feel guilty for missing the familiar. It’s human nature. Skype your mom, she’ll annoy you after ten minutes, and then you won’t feel so homesick.
My advice to those going abroad: Don’t let this scare you. Let this be something that will make you less nervous. Everyone’s budgets are different and everyone’s plans will be different. Let your experience be your own and don’t worry about making sure you won’t do it “right.” However you do it is the best way for you. Don’t feel pressured by people’s assertions that you will love it or that you NEED to do something. They’re just excited for you and only want to you have the best time ever. And you will.