Abroad: What to expect when you’re expecting

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Last semester, I studied abroad at the University of Sydney in Australia. It was an unforgettable experience, and I am so grateful I had the opportunity to go. Before I left, I got in touch with a Brown alum who had done the same program a few years ago. Her list of suggestions was unbelievably helpful; she gave me tons of restaurants to try, bars to frequent, and cities to visit.

But when I got to Australia, I realized I needed some kind of emotional roadmap. My experience in Sydney was unique to my program, but after speaking with my friends who were scattered across the globe, I saw lots of overlap. Far from complete, here’s my list of what to expect before you go abroad.

DO expect to feel some weird FOMO

My program began earlier than most of my friends’ did, and although I was beyond excited, I also felt anxious to leave behind everyone I knew. The flurry of snap stories, Insta posts, and group texts compounded that weird lonely feeling. Because many of my friends decided to study abroad together, I also felt like they were hanging out every weekend, exploring new places and making irreplaceable memories. Eventually, I had to take a step back, and realize that I had chosen my program for me and no one else. Ultimately, I am so happy I chose the program I did. 

So, are you worried about being the only one studying in Morocco or Vietnam or Greece? Just follow your gut and go for it. I promise it’s so worth it.  Another word of advice? Avoid social media when you’re feeling some of that initial loneliness. Believe me, it’s a rabbit hole that doesn’t lead to fun places.

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DO expect to savor the small victories

During orientation, our leaders asked us to write a list of goals for our study abroad experience. I usually find these exercises unbearably cheesy, but I really tried to put thought into what I hoped to get out of the trip. My list was long, with both specific ideas and broader themes. I wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef, swim at Bondi Beach, try great food, and meet interesting people. I wanted to write more, learn from Australians, and shake that tourist-y feeling. My final goal was the most specific: I wanted to master public transportation in Australia.

My hometown, Atlanta, is a big, sprawling city with a weak train system and a confusing interstate. To get almost anywhere, you must get in a car. I worked at a newspaper this summer, and while I loved it, the rush hour commute was a nightmare. Some of my older friends told me that Australia has great public transportation, and I can happily confirm the rumors are true. I’ll never forget the first time I figured out the train system in Sydney. I grew to love my commute to work and school, listening to podcasts and music and feeling like I belonged. In the past, I’ve sucked at RIPTA, but now I have the confidence to give it another try.

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DON’T expect the classes to be just like Brown classes

On paper, I went to college to expand my educational opportunities, get a degree, and secure a job after graduation. But I also went to join clubs and societies, meet new people, and maybe sleep in every once in a while.

Last semester, I learned that finding balance is even more difficult when you study abroad. In addition to the normal tug-of-war between studying and social life, living in Australia presented a unique set of challenges. Everything was so new. I wanted to gobble it all up, explore every inch of the country I was making my home.

With all of this in mind, focusing on classes when you’re abroad is extra challenging. It’s hard to love your time in the classroom when there’s so much beyond those walls.

I learned that the classes abroad were way bigger than my Brown classes. At the University of Sydney, most of my courses had hundreds of students and took place in large lecture theaters. The majority of uni students commuted from home and professors were more like lecturers than teachers. Don’t expect that special, one-on-one connection with instructors when you go abroad. But believe me, the experiences outside the classroom make it so worth it.

DO expect to meet hella Americans

When I went abroad, I was expecting to hang out only with Australians and (potentially) meet that Auzzie bae of my dreams. Of all the expectations, this one was the most off. My friend group was 90% American; they came from colleges in Minnesota, Connecticut, and North Carolina. 

Hanging with Americans sounds sort of against the point, but honestly, there were so many upsides. Because of abroad, I feel like I have this massive network of peers across the country. I’ve already visited one of my best friends, and she’s coming to Brown next semester!

It’s also really special to go through this experience with people who get it. They understood the frustration of confusing class timetables. They let me borrow their converters when mine exploded. They helped me figure out my bank account.

But beware. Some of that weird social climb-iness of high school resurfaces when you go abroad. Watch out for the giant packs of kids from that one school whose entire student body is somehow in your program. 

DO expect to fall in love with your neighborhood

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For me, the best part of abroad was exploring a brand new neighborhood. I loved learning the names of the shops on my street, perusing my favorite bookstores, and frequenting various cafés. As basic as it sounds, brunch was a huge deal in Australia. I would save up all week, subsisting on peanut butter in my apartment, so I could splurge on my favorite breakfast. Thick challah bread, avocado, a poached egg. And the coffee.

Ratty-ing this semester is going to be really, really sad. 

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