Study Abroad for a Year
As someone who’s studied abroad twice, trust me: going for a year is half as hard and twice as rewarding.
By Juliana Neves, Loyola University
This year summer feels a bit different.
Last year when I came home from college, summer was screaming my name. I was so happy to be home, mainly because I could finally eat real food and get back all the hours of sleep I missed during finals. After I regained proper bodily function, summer became like a movie again. Drive ins, hiking, camp fires, barbecues—the works. However, that wouldn’t last long, because I decided to study abroad last summer, and when you’re leaving behind summer nights with your best friends, six weeks alone in another country doesn’t seem that appealing. I wasn’t all that sure about study abroad, and as when the plane was taking off, I still doubted if it would be worth the cost of my summer.
I studied abroad in Braga, Portugal. I have family in the city who worked at the same university I was studying at, so it was a perfect match. Since the program wasn’t through my own university, I didn’t know anyone taking the class (all I hoped was that someone would speak English).
The first day felt like the first day of high school, and all I wanted was to be home with my friends. Then, I met my first friend, Mariana. She noticed I was reading an English novel and took a wild guess I was from the states. She was from Pennsylvania and I never felt more relieved.
As the days went on, I made more friends and became more comfortable in the city. I made friends with people from England, Spain, China, France, Greece and even Iran. We would get lunch together and explore after class. Some of us even planned a trip to the neighboring city of Porto, and if you know anything about Porto, you know we drank some damn good wine.
Sure, there were days I missed my friends and the good ol’ USA, but every time I missed apple pie and barbecues, I remembered where I was. I was in Portugal, my homeland! I was climbing mountains and going to the beach in the same day. I was going out with new friends and staying up until 6am (yes, they party until dawn). I was seeing the world, and I couldn’t get that back home.
When I finally came home, it didn’t take long for me to wish I was back in Portugal. Yes, I got to see friends that I hadn’t seen in more than a month, but that got old after a couple weeks. When I came home, I didn’t spend every waking moment with the friends that I missed. Instead, I spent more time looking at pictures from my adventures, talking about Portugal and wishing I was still there. Scrolling through all the pictures, I realized that you can’t make decisions based upon seeing or not seeing people, and that’s why I decided to go abroad for my whole junior year.
Yup, for 10 months, this September to next June, I’ll be in Leuven, Belgium. Most people choose to study one semester abroad, but here’s my reasoning why a year is a better choice.
First, people say that one year is too long. I politely disagree.
You leave every year for college and some people only come home for Christmas break, which is no different than studying abroad for a year. If you study abroad in the fall, when you return home you wish you could go back. If you study abroad in the spring, that’s all you’re thinking about first semester. Also, a semester doesn’t give you a whole lot of time to travel and get to know your home country. You want to cram in so many trips that you spend one day in each place doing touristy things, but you don’t actually get to know the culture. A year gives you so much time to travel that you can feel confident that you are really immersing yourself wherever you go.
The second thing people are worried about is they will get homesick. Newsflash, you can get homesick anywhere. If I sleepover at a friend’s house, I get homesick because I miss my bed. When you go to college, you get homesick because you miss home-cooked meals and walking around in your underwear (if you do that drunk at school, it’s not the same thing).
Whether you are an hour, five hours, a state or an ocean away, you will get homesick. The thing with homesickness is that it doesn’t matter the distance. As long as you are in a different place, it’ll happen, but it will also go away.
The fear of homesickness did not stop me from going to college, so why should it stop me now?
When you think about it, you only come home about five times throughout the school year, and most times you don’t want to come home to chores and curfews. If you think about coming home as going back to lazy days on the couch, it’s really not that bad.
The third issue is worrying that you will never see the graduating again. I have made some incredible friends in the grade above me. With me gone all next year and them graduating, it could be possible that I don’t see some of them again. I’m not a misanthrope, I love my friends, but I can’t make decisions in regards to them.
Let’s be honest, how many of those “friends” do you see on a daily basis? Aside from a handful of people, I see some of them only once a week when I’m not drowning in work and other responsibilities. Percentage-wise, they really don’t take up much of my week. I love them dearly, and I know you love your friends too, but if you want to keep in contact with them, you will find a way.
Next, people fear they will be forgotten. People cringe at FOMO. People worry that they will miss out on so much going on at their college. “A whole year?!? So much will happen!”
You’re right, a lot will happen, but a lot more can happen in abroad. When you get upset about missing this or that, just take a moment to think about where you are. Paris, London, Bangkok, Leuven, Rome, Tokyo—I think all of those top any college party.