Should You Study Abroad? A Traveler’s Guide to Being The International Student
Let’s be honest — you’ve romanticized yourself living in a single apartment, seeking an independent life, and finding freedom from the clutch of your parents. There’s no doubt that moving to another state or city for college can accomplish that goal, but what if you wanted to deal your cards even further and travel to a different country? I recently spent my first semester in this incredibly odd place called the United States of America, and I want to share what it’s like to build a new persona for yourself while hurdling through the cultural barriers of a new country.
First thing’s first, WEATHER!
The best thing about moving to a place you’ve never been before is the complete wardrobe change. I grew up in the Philippines, a tropical country in Southeast Asia that is approximately 30c degrees (86 in Fahrenheit for my fellow Americans). That being said, I was more than excited to finally switch up the usual shorts and spaghetti strapped shirts I was used to wearing. When moving to a new place, remember to ALWAYS take the weather into account because now that it’s the dead of winter in Massachusetts where snow can come in at any minute I’m beginning to question my decision to study on the east coast (only joking, of course). The weather is a huge factor in your stay since it will determine the activities you end up doing, what you wear, and the difficulty level of your adjustment. The best weather is one you are prepared for and one you can eventually learn to enjoy.
One of the absolute best parts about moving to a new country is that nobody, and I mean almost nobody will know who you were back in high school. Failed biology in Junior year? Went to school with a terrible haircut that you still have nightmares about? Wore the wrong uniform to gym class? Went to a high school with a bad reputation? Don’t even worry about it. This is one of those few opportunities that allow you to completely rebrand yourself. And in the unfortunate event that you are unable to think of anything else to add to your new personality, you can always pull the international student card.
Culture Shock is REAL
I never realized that when someone asks, “How are you?”, you’re actually supposed to ask how they are after answering. In Manila, people don’t really ask how you are. Random people don’t really even greet one another in general. I thought my limited TikTok and Youtube exposure to American culture prepared me enough to live here, but there are some things that you can only learn by experiencing it. Back in Highschool, we were required to stand up if we wanted to speak in class, and here everyone just seems to sit and talk at the same time. I also want to give a small shoutout to the advancements in payment methods here in America. Everything here is paid through apple pay or card, and whenever I pay with cash, I have trouble checking if my change is correct because American coins still confuse me. Moving to a new country requires a lot of preparation, not just in greetings and currency, but in learning a new language, trying to speak without an accent, and pushing yourself to talk to the locals when it’s pouring hail and you can’t remember where the nearest T is.
The hardest part about studying abroad, on my end at least, was the homesickness. In my opinion, it’s worst after winter break because as soon as I arrived in Boston, I couldn’t even leave my dorm because of the cold and the covid cases around the area. There are days when it feels like my family is so far away, and the time difference only makes it harder to contact them when I need to hear their voice. This is why I strongly suggest that you join clubs, make friends, go out, do your assignments, keep yourself busy, and enjoy the freedom you have in a city you can one day call yours.
It’s not easy to study abroad for an extended period of time. Even if my country offered more opportunities in the education and employment department, I wouldn’t trade my first semester here for anything. If you do decide to study abroad, know that the people you will meet, regardless of a potential language and culture barrier, those people will make all of the harsh winters and endless midterms worth it. Not to mention, when you’re studying abroad you are not only learning something you probably would have never seen or heard of back home but are also discovering the beauty of independence. In 10 years time when life decides to hit me in the face and put me in a position where I need to make decisions for myself while in a single apartment trying to get my 9 to 5 together, I am 70% sure I’ll have already gotten through worse and survived by then.