Here’s the thing. Being an international student is awesome. You get to travel. Meet people and even create memories that are going to last a lifetime. It will be one of your best decisions. And totally worth the hassle. But here’s what no one will ever tell you before you study abroad.
You will get judged everywhere you go. I can’t remember how many times I was looked down for having a “non-American accent” or for not “looking the part” to the general crowd. You will be a stereotype. There will be times that people will actually ask you” what are you” and say that “You must be very rich since you’re studying abroad. (Ah, let’s all laugh at this one)”. And there will be touchy subjects. Especially if you are not from one of those really famous places like France or England, and people don’t actually know your country exists. You will have a hard time breaking stereotypes. It will be hard to share your culture without having someone asking a question that is total nonsense, but they believe is true. There will be days you won’t get out of bed because you miss your family. Or you missed an important celebration in your country. It will be your birthday and you will be stuck in Genetics lab for 4 hours, to come to your dorm crying until you fall asleep. And even though you will have a lot of friends by the end of the semester, they will not be like your friends back home. Not to mention it will take a darn long time for you to be comfortable enough to talk to people, especially if you are an introvert to the core.
But also, there will be moments of teaching. Teaching yourself to survive in a totally different world on your own. Teaching others about your culture. And teaching yourself about your own culture and appreciate it more. Day by day I become fascinated by the history, strength, and determination of my country and its people. There will be moments of learning. Learning that you need help, and that is okay to ask for help. Learning about the beautiful people and culture you are in. Learning to respect another person’s opinion (even when they are wrong). Learning to contain your excitement and wanting to experience everything at once. And learning to be true to yourself and to who you are.
It will be hard, I am not going to lie. There were days I wanted to leave. There were days I was racially profiled. And there were days I felt unsafe because of the news. But also, there were days I appreciated for being where I am. For having such an awesome support system here in the US and back home. And there were days that all the sleepless nights of projects and exams paid off. I mean, studying abroad is almost like a gamble. You don’t know how it will be until you get there. But, it will be rewarding and win or lose, you will learn from it. You might not like your experience as a student, or you might love your experience and learn from both.
No matter what, you have to see yourself as an ambassador of your country and culture. You might be one of the lucky ones to be in a place where people have never heard of your country. (yay me). And you are their point of reference and the representation of an entire country. (So, don’t try to mess it up). Regardless, even though studying abroad might seem scary and you might think you are all alone, remember you are never alone. You have a lot of people that are glad you are doing this, and glad you are taking risks to broaden your horizon. And in the end, you will have memories that will last forever. Friends from all over the world that you can go visit one day. And when you go home, you can finally say stuff like “when I was abroad…or During my years abroad’ and make everyone jealous and eager to study abroad too. So, enjoy!
ISV Magazine Contributor