Rachel Gischia is a student at the Grand Valley State University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Athens, Greece.
It is important to remember before and while studying abroad that you should not have too many set expectations. It is easy to get caught up in excitement and adrenaline of being in a completely different country. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing to be enthusiastic about your experience, but there is a lot I have learned about being too eager in my excitement, and I believe it is worth sharing.
Think Before Doing
I usually am good at thinking before I do things. I try to think about all of the pros and cons of everything. The first week I arrived in Athens, Greece I met so many amazing friends. A huge group of us girls got together one night and starting looking into weekend trips. We were stoked to see inexpensive flights to beautiful destinations. We all ended up booking a flight for a random weekend in February to Sofia, Bulgaria.
Okay, you’re thinking no big deal, right? Well, three girls–including myself–happened to have midterm exams during those dates different from our normal class hours. We had to miss the trip and lost $90. Think before you do!! Look at schedules and keep in mind exams or preset ISA excursions.
Not Everyone is Just Like You
Living with 9 other girls has been one of the best experiences I have gone through, and one of the toughest. I got very lucky with my roommates, but I have heard other stories. First of all, not everyone was raised the way you were. Some people may not clean up their messes, or take out the trash, or even have the same morals as you. This is okay! Everyone survives. You will find your people, don’t worry. Just remember not to be quick to judge if someone is different from you.
Don’t Change Yourself to Fit In & Love Yourself
With people not being exactly like you, you might run into a “conformity” bump. This could be when “everyone is doing it” pops into your head on multiple occasions. Everyone is going out tonight; everyone is skipping class; everyone is traveling here or there; etc, etc. Sometimes this isn’t a bad thing! It’s good to be social while abroad, make friends, and have positive experiences.
But be careful about getting overwhelmed. It can be easy to change yourself in order to fit in with the majority. Try to stick to who you truly are, while still being social and experiencing a lot. This may be a challenge, but overall it is beneficial for your character. I had a hard time realizing many flaws within myself and still loving who I am every day. It’s a doable and wonderful test while abroad.
Don’t Let it Get to You
While in another country, the culture and norms can be VERY different. This can be on a large spectrum, and small too. I went to a restaurant near my apartment with one of my friends and we were craving a burger. We ordered one to split, and we didn’t think it was good at all. The cheese was liquid and the patty did not taste normal. When we told the waiter we did not like the burger and asked if we could get something else, he simply replied, “Don’t get it next time.” We were kind of surprised and a bit offended. In the U.S. they would have gladly taken it back and let us order something new. Overall, a different culture means different customs and norms. It is not worth your time to be offended by something the locals may think nothing of. Keep in mind, you are all the way across the world!
Stand Up for Yourself
Don’t let yourself get taken advantage of because you are young or because you are now in the minority while abroad. There are times where people might notice you are a young American student; you might not know the language that well, or the laws, rules, or customs. There was an instance where a group of girls and I got charged and obscene amount of money for leaving the place we were staying “too messy.” The host messaged us to say she was going to charge us over $500. Before paying, we called the company and asked what they thought about it. They told us it was a scam and we did not need to pay anything. This is still the real world even if you’re abroad, and if you think something is off, most likely it will be. Always stand up for yourself!
With all of this, I say HAVE FUN while studying abroad!! Be conscious of these tips and enjoy every minute of your once in a lifetime opportunity.
Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.