Why You Should Ditch Your Expectations for Study Abroad

Don’t have expectations when going abroad.

Anticipating things to be one way only to inevitably find out they’re another only leaves room for disappointment, to be let down and disoriented in an unfamiliar place.

At least, that’s what I thought before I left for New Zealand. I went FAR out of my way to avoid ‘spoilers’ of what I would find here. I dipped from every conversation where someone tried to sell me about this cool place or that cultural difference (sorry, Mom). I didn’t want to know anything. My rationale was that knowing nothing about my experience to come was the best, if not only, way to keep an open mind. I imagined if I knew nothing of my exotic experience to come, then every aspect of it would have the potential to be breathtaking and eye opening.

It worked — for the first few days, at least. Like I predicted, everything was truly fascinating. I saw endless mountainscapes and beautiful waterfalls. Wandering through the local markets, I witnessed a bustling community far more culturally diverse than anything back home. I even felt completely comfortable knowing all of my friends and family were across the globe, literally. As I garnered experiences, I found myself extremely accepting of the cultural shifts and differences that surrounded me.

view from brooklyn hill seal coast safari tour
The spectacular view on top the Brooklyn Hill from the Seal Coast Safari tour in Wellington

The first couple of weeks passed and I became more and more situated into my new lifestyle, where new implies different. I wasn’t resistant to the changes, but I was afraid of them. My fears were amplified by this being my first solo traveling experience and a lack of friend networks to rely upon for support. I talked to my family and friends back home and I realized I was homesick, but to the extreme. I truthfully didn’t find enjoyment doing anything. I had hit my ‘culture shock’ in technical terms.

After some time, I figured out my mistake. I wasn’t expecting anything in particular, but at the same time, I was expecting that to make everything magnificent. In plain terms, I was in denial that any experience could even be a bad experience. I assumed everything new would be different, but in a positive way. When I had my first bad experience, I denied it even happening rather than accepting or addressing it. In truth, this made me more disappointed than I would have been had I just acknowledged that there could be down sides to going abroad.

If you’re about to go abroad, my advice is to expect whatever you want, but don’t expect everything to be amazing. Once I realized this, my trip became drastically better. I stopped tripping over every negative experience and it honestly became easier to find the eye-opening experiences I sought after all along. I’ve adored learning about the variety of cultures of the refugee students I teach, and exploring everything New Zealand has to offer with the friends I’ve made in the program has been priceless.

E.J Hannah is a student at the Stevens Institute of Technology and an ISA Featured Blogger. He is studying abroad with ISA Service Learning in Wellington, New Zealand.

Your Discovery. Our People… The World Awaits.

2 thoughts

  1. Hi EJ! My name is Marlo and I’m studying abroad with ISA in Wellington too! I’m also from New Jersey and I’ll be a blogger for ISA over the next few months as well. Just wanted to say hi :)

    1. Hey Marlo! That’s really awesome to hear. I’m already back in New Jersey but if you have any questions, don’t be afraid to ask! :) You’re going to have an absolute blast. Tell Fred I said hi!

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