I think it’s beneficial to express how amazing studying abroad is, but also bring up the struggles that everyone faces at one point or another. It’s a large change as you are away from family and friends and in a different country. It’s so easy to get lost in the fun portions of studying abroad, but it’s good to reflect on the not-so-fun emotions and show that they are a part of studying abroad.
This is something anyone traveling abroad has to experience. Each country has its own history and culture that is unique to itself. This was something that I remember when I first arrived in Greece, such as the different language, the regular presence of police wherever you are, the food and drink differences when compared to the United States, and so much more. These changes, especially with it all happening so fast, can be extremely stressful.
I remember missing American food and wondering how I would survive without some of the food I regularly ate at home. I often felt overwhelmed when trying to understand Greek. Especially at the beginning of the semester, I tried a lot to learn the language so I could communicate with locals and at stores. I struggled with understanding Greek culture, especially when it came to how stores were run, the hours of operation, and so on. This was incredibly hard for me and at many points I felt hopeless. I questioned if this was how I was always going to feel. Was this something I’d experience until the end of the semester?
Homesickness – the Midterm Blues
I found myself feeling homesick, especially during the first few weeks here. I missed seeing my family and going to family reunions that I knew were happening without me. The same was felt with my friends and with college. I questioned if I was missing out on things happening at Hope and what my friends were up to. This filled me with a lot of initial regret and I wasn’t sure if studying abroad was right for me. I thought about the possibility of returning home because of this.
While I thought that I was managing my homesickness well, it came back during midterms. All I wanted was to see my family and friends in person and that was not a possibility. This realization was heartbreaking and I found it hard to talk to people about this. I felt that others in the program with me were not experiencing this and I didn’t want to stress my family at home with my concerns. This caused a great deal of stress that, along with other things happening, turned into a bowling ball of problems. It was something I had never experienced before and something I didn’t know how to handle.
School and Stress
School and free-time balancing was also another hard portion of studying abroad. With being abroad, all you want to do is travel and see new things, not exactly go to school. Motivation was low and it caught up to me halfway through the semester. It was my fault, but it was also something I couldn’t change. This was an experience that my other friends in the program also experienced, so not exactly a unique experience.
It’s also difficult because the education system here in Greece is different than it is back home. While CYA is an American study abroad program, the majority of professors are Greek or European, thus most teach in the ways they had grown up with. Instead of many smaller assignments, there are larger assignments worth more of your grade and more work outside of the classroom that is expected of you. I was not ready for this and it came as a huge shock to me. I wasn’t sure how to change my previous study processes as they weren’t working with these changes. This is still a struggle, even now, as the semester is coming to an end.
What to do – How to Work Around the Struggles
While this does seem like a lot, I believe that there are ways to reduce this so that you can balance school and free-time and have an overall fun study abroad experience.
One of my biggest recommendations is to take time for yourself. There are instances when you will get overwhelmed and feel like things aren’t going right. I have found that if I take time to relax, maybe watch a movie or take a nap, I can “reset” and prepare to take on the day. It’s also great to take a walk around the city to clear your mind. Here in Athens, there are some nice parks that you can walk in, sit down, and relax.
It’s good to hang out with friends as well. Sometimes I have found that going out to dinner with friends in the program helped to get our minds off our stressors and relax. I really like to text my friends and do a random trip to places we haven’t been to just to try something new and get out of the apartment.
Make sure you reach out to people about your stress. While it might seem hard, it’s good to tell others what you are thinking. Any study abroad program will have people you can reach out to for help. Family and friends back home are always just one call or video chat away. It’s also good to realize that other people on the program are probably feeling the same as you! This is not just something that you experience, but everyone else does at one point or another. Because of this, support is always there, you are never left to deal with things on your own.
Feeling stressed and wanting to go home at one point or another is completely normal! It is a HUGE change whenever you go to a different country, especially when you are staying there for many months. What is important about this is to see these stressful situations and try to resolve them, not let them get worse. Try out different methods to reduce stress and use what works for you. Remember, you are not alone in this! All of this is part of the studying abroad process, something everyone experiences, and that there is always support for you.