What most people do not tell you about studying abroad is that it is not always all about fun and adventures. It is just like any other experience, one serving many obstacles, which are vital for learning. This article discusses some of the challenges I have faced as a student in my journey of living abroad and how they have helped spark a positive change.
“Travel is not always pretty. It is not always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you.” – Anthony Bourdain
During the spring semester of my sophomore year, I had the privilege to study at NYU London for four months. To me, living abroad was a journey of appreciation, self-discovery, realization, and change that helped me grow academically, intellectually and increased my awareness on a number of issues. This change would not have been possible without all the challenges that came along with living in a city I have never been to before.
People often assume that living abroad has to be one of the most fun experiences anyone could ever possibly go through. What they often forget about is even travel and living abroad can be quite a dreadful experience, with all the obstacles it contains, especially when it is not for leisure purposes. But all good and bad is worth it in the end, as long as it comes with change. My personal experience was not as easy as I expected to be. It did push me outside of my comfort zone as a student when it came to time management and emotionally as a ‘migrant’.
One of the biggest challenges I underwent, in this case, was one of patience. Since I have never visited London before, I was very excited and keen on exploring all the nooks and crannies the city had to offer and make sure to visit the touristy landmarks. Naturally, I wanted to excel in my studies and be able to have my fair share of adventures in what seemed to be a ‘temporary home’. This issue of trying to balance out my time for my work with that of exploration was completely novel to me. What made it even more difficult was the fact that I was the one responsible for planning out my entire lifestyle now, which can be great, but can easily throw your time management skills out the window. I was in the driver’s seat now steering the wheel for what seemed to be the longest time, and that required a lot of endurance.
In London. I was away from the comfort of my home, close family, and friends. Naturally, my experience felt lonely most of the time. The benefit that came with this challenge is learning to enjoy my own company when it comes to taking a breather. It also helped me become more independent when it comes to providing for myself. Although this was an obstacle I initially dreaded to face; it was one I needed to appreciate the efforts made by my family and friends back home even more. My feelings of loneliness helped spark bonds that never in my wildest dreams thought possible, and this resulted in creating some of the best memories I have yet. I finally began to realize that wherever I am in the world, and whatever it is that I am facing, there is always going to be someone out there who could relate to my experience and is willing to help out.
With this paradigm shift, suddenly I started appreciating every little detail there is. I started noticing and appreciating the little things, like a smile on a stranger’s face when I walk by, or a flower sailing into the wind, or the wrinkles of time engraved on buildings and houses, or a baby giggling at a stranger’s funny faces and many more. Noticing these little things amplified my overall study away experience, as it was then that I could genuinely feel that I was finally beginning to blend with my surroundings and cherish every moment.
Studying away is an experience of a lifetime that could go either well or one that punches you in the guts but makes you stronger in the end. If you ever get such an opportunity, make sure you savor every second of your adventure and embrace every experience whether good or bad. Everything happens for a reason, so before you take the difficulties facing you on your journey as a threat lurking, as if about to ambush you, think of them as lessons taught by the world’s greatest teacher. In the end, “without struggle, there is no progress,” and the challenges that come from living abroad are no exception.
Sarah is a student at the New York University of Abu Dhabi, majoring in Economics and minoring in Philosophy. She is also an Emirati pianist who has been playing music for nine years and counting, performing at many events across the UAE and participating in many competitions. She is passionate about learning, exploring new fields and trying out new things in her free time, as she believes that there are no boundaries to knowledge. Her main topics of interest include mental health, disabilities, psychology, philanthropy, philosophy, and lifestyle. She aims to learn and give back to her community through her journey of writing.