Thinking about going abroad for a semester? As a current study abroad-er in Rome, Italy, I highly recommend it. But despite loving the experience, studying abroad is most certainly not a walk in the park. It’s definitely four months of fun, but it’s also a lot more difficult than I expected. No one ever told me the loneliness that a semester abroad holds—it’s an emotional roller coaster.
Back home, I live just a half hour from school, so if I’m ever feeling homesick (yes, I still miss my parents), I can just call my mom and go home for the weekend. You can’t do that when you’re halfway across the world. My first week, I cried every single night because I missed home so much.
The first weekend, my roommates and I decided to go out to a bar to check out the Italian nightlife. Back home, I loved going to dorm parties with my friends on the weekends. In Rome, the bars are kind of seedy and Italian men have no problem invading your personal space.
I went and had a drink, but didn’t have a good time. I got home feeling even lonelier than when we had left. It didn’t matter that I had spent the night surrounded by people. I was miserable.
The next weekend, my roommates went out again, but I decided to stay home. I made up some excuse about having work to do, but really I just wanted to be alone. I attempted to FaceTime my mom for a while, but the Wi-Fi in our apartment kept us from holding a connection.
After calling each other back and forth for over an hour, we probably talked for about six minutes. I was so frustrated and sad that I sat on my bed and cried. I missed everything about home, and was afraid that I would never adjust to my new surroundings.
I tried talking to a few friends back in the States, but they didn’t really understand. “You’re in Italy,” they said. “How can anything be that bad?” I knew that they were (mostly) right.
I was being presented with an amazing opportunity that so many people could only dream of. Before I left, my best friend gave me a roll of quarters to make wishes in the Trevi Fountain, and I was determined to have my Lizzie McGuire moment, even if the fountain is under construction for the next two years. It would have been selfish of me to sit in my bed crying every night and not take advantage of my situation. I made up my mind to never spend another weekend night alone in bed. When the next weekend rolled around, I was excited to go out with my roommates and spend time having fun.
Now, about halfway through the semester, I’m starting to realize that I’ll miss Italy when I go home in a few short weeks. I’ve loved traveling throughout Europe and creating a home in my new environment. That’s not to say that I never get sad. I most certainly still do. I miss my parents, my brother and my friends, and I’ve cried since that first awful weekend. But overall, I’ve really enjoyed my time here.
Despite what everyone will tell you, it’s fine if your abroad experience isn’t perfect. You may love it, or you may completely hate it. As much as I appreciate all the advice from friends who’ve been abroad, I wish someone had been honest with me.
There’s a very real chance that it won’t be the magical fairy tale that everyone describes. That chance grows exponentially if you’ve got the bar set so high that reality can never measure up. Put things in perspective: It’s called study abroad for a reason. You’re still in school. You’ll still miss home. It’ll still be a challenge. And you’re even further away from home, which makes the challenges more difficult to tackle. Just because you’re in a foreign country doesn’t mean that life will be like a Disney movie. Enjoy every second, but be realistic. And remember that it is completely okay to cry.