Managing Expectations Abroad: Finding a Home Away from Home

My life online has been nothing short of glamorous: fresh passport stamps on the weekends, café croissants during my morning commute, bottomless brunch with the girls, a stroll through the Royal Parks. 

But did I mention having to wash all of my clothes in the sink this week? 

A Spanish port
Lunch outside the Globe Theatre
Plaça de Gaudí, Barcelona

The study abroad experience isn’t always a perfect match for our expectations. It comes with its fair share of challenges. Embracing the uniqueness of my new environment became a crucial strategy in finding that sought-after home away from home. I had to realign my expectations with reality—and yes, that even involved mastering the art of hang-drying socks.

The proof

Cultural Adjustment

It took only one day in London for me to commit a foreigner faux pas, standing on the left side of the escalator—what I came to find out was a serious social crime. 

Stand on the right, walk on the left. Got it. 

Expecting to seamlessly blend into your host country’s culture is unrealistic. Whether it’s the side of the escalator you gravitate to, the tipping culture, or early store closures, you’re bound to encounter a difference or two. When visiting other countries, I was met with language barriers, unfamiliar customs, more differences in transportation etiquette. Overcoming that initial discomfort meant learning to appreciate the nuances that made each culture unique and turning challenges into opportunities for growth.  

Dinner at Luigi Ristorante, Spain
The ‘Queer Nature’ exhibit at Kew Gardens

Financial Management

A budgeting app won’t cover all of your financial bases abroad. Unexpected travel and living costs lurk around every corner. Did your weekend backpack breach the ‘personal item’ dimensions? There’s an unplanned $50. Unaware of the tourist tax at your Airbnb? Tack on another $30. Is the only place open on your walk home an overpriced kebab shop? It’s cold out, and you’re deciding whether to spend the $15 or go home hungry.

When navigating these scenarios, recognize that these hiccups go beyond initial frustration—they’re a crash course in financial savvy. No matter your financial education, a night in the kebab shop may still find you.

An afternoon tea for two… hundred Euro
The British Museum’s statue of Thaleia (zoomed in to hide a kid drawing on the artifacts)

Health and Wellness

Ryan bought tickets to that new event uptown. You in? Aislinn was thinking about hitting the coffeeshop before class. Nikki just found out that your favorite movie sequel is showing at the cinema, and you can’t miss opening night, right?

That luxurious ‘self-care day’ is now overshadowed by self-declared must-dos, and your weekend is booked up. Come Monday, you’re back at school drained and yearning for that breather you missed. 

Dolbadarn Castle of Wales
View from a cable car ride in Geneva, Switzerland

Studying abroad demands extra effort to find a work-life balance. Feelings of homesickness, identity questions, networking, and academic commitments become a circus act. Is there a ‘right way’ to handle it all? No. But my months here have taught me that prioritizing personal time is crucial. It’s a key way to manage stress and maintain a healthy lifestyle amidst all the changes. So, nourish your body and don’t hesitate to say no to Ryan every once in a while.

An art exposition in Wales
The sunset from a Welsh castle lookout

Study abroad is a mixed bag of weekend escapades and sink-laundry. Each challenge—be it cultural adjustments, financial acrobatics, or the delicate balance of well-being—fosters growth. Embracing the differences, navigating unforeseen expenses, and prioritizing self-care become the bets that make up our unique study abroad journey. 

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