(Pictured left-to-right: myself with my roommates Danielle and Savannah)
If you have had the pleasure of spending any amount of time abroad, you have more than likely been faced with the never-ending flow of questions about the program you participated in. I love any opportunity to talk about the incredible amount of time I was fortunate enough to spend living in a foreign city, which is why I love my current position as an Education Abroad Peer Advisor. Upon my return to the States, I was approached with a plethora of questions regarding my time abroad, including inquires about what I would change about my time out of the country. My immediate response is always the same: nothing, I loved every single moment of my experience abroad. After giving it some thought I’ve concluded that there is, in fact, a few things that I would change if I could do it all over again.
I regret forgetting that it is okay to be a little bit touristy
One of things I constantly reminded myself while I was out gallivanting across the various European cities was that I did NOT want to be recognized by anyone in the crowd as one of ‘those American tourists’. I tried my very best to blend in with my European surroundings which meant in turn I missed out some really great opportunities to represent the greatest university in America and show off my school spirit. If I could do it all over again, I would remember to pack a handful of my favorite Wildcat gear and throw a few more three goggles up in every city I graced with my presence. After all, the world deserves to know that Big Blue Nation is loud and proud whether we’re in the bluegrass or in front of the Eiffel Tower.
I regret cutting corners in the cuisine department
One of the touchier subjects of finding a program that fits you while abroad is the cost. While I was abroad I thought I would be smart and try to cut some corners with saving my budget for more important things (like a round-trip to Norway for the weekend). Being the big foodie that I am, I’m not quite sure why I thought this was okay but it took a couple of months before I realized what a mistake this way of thinking was. Although this was a great opportunity to bond with my roommates, by restricting ourselves to our college level at home style meals we missed out on the surrounding restaurants. Splurging on the cultural experience of the various cuisine experiences was definitely not one of my regrets of my trips.
I regret making too many American friends
I had asked many students who had studied abroad before me what they would change about their time abroad and almost every single one had told me that I should make sure to make friends with other students outside of my American traveling posse – and I agree with them completely. Unfortunately, it’s only after falling victim to this age-old mistake of education abroad as those who were before me. It wasn’t until my (dreaded) countdown to head home had reached under the one-month mark that I finally took a leap of faith and introduced myself to some of the local students. I was under the impression that the local students wouldn’t be interested in spending time with me that I missed out on the friendships that could have had more time to develop had I not been afraid to interact with them in the first place.
I regret not making enough American friends
It seems contradictory to say that I didn’t make enough American friends after just sharing how I wish I had stepped out of my comfort zone sooner, but bear with me. During my term abroad I was lucky enough to have gotten the chance to meet students from all across the United States, even more exciting was the fact that they shared my love for travel and adventure. There are not many situations quite like being in a foreign city where the primary language is not one that you are fluent in that will reinforce relationships to grow stronger even if they are relatively new to you. I studied with students that reside from coast to coast, which is excellent when it comes to needing tourist tips while visiting their city. While I made a handful of great friends that I follow up with frequently, I can’t help but feel regret for the others that I didn’t get to share as many experiences with. In other words, I wish I would have gotten out of not only my international comfort zone to reach out to new friends, but also within my own program.
I regret not remembering to appreciate what was outside my front door
A huge bonus to having an education abroad program that is centrally located is the opportunity to travel. I was fortunate enough to have adventures set in six other countries, excluding my host country. Being able to experience the different cultures every weekend was one of my favorite things about traveling between countries, but I neglected the fact that I was residing in an incredible country every other day of the week. I spent many days wandering around my host city, but I am aware of the excruciating amount of coffee shops that I didn’t allow myself to sit in while appreciating the beautiful and mysterious place I got to call home for a short period of time.
I regret thinking that FOMO was going to take over my life.
The ‘fear of missing out’ is an issue that we all face with in daily situations. The decision to go abroad for a full fall semester wasn’t done lightly. There was a long list of pros and cons I stared intently at before taking the plunge and deciding that I might as well try living abroad for almost four months. I laugh, now, thinking that I wouldn’t be able to handle four months abroad when now upon being asked what I could change about my education abroad program I reply with, “I wish I could have stayed longer.” Four months was not enough time to experience my city to its utmost potential. It took a mere three months before I learned to set aside my expectations from the culture I was raised in and to feel entirely comfortable being immersed into this new culture.
Courtney Henning is a senior at the University of Kentucky majoring in International Studies and Gender and Women’s Studies. She studied in the Czech Republic in the Fall of 2013 though an International Studies Abroad (ISA) program.