(featured image by columbialion.com)
That phrase, along with study abroad regrets, is one of the most popular search terms for the Twenty in Paris blog. Every time I see that phrase, I get a little sad and frustrated. Why does this keep happening? Why are students regretting their study abroad? Even with my extremely tough first semester in Paris (caused by my lack of preparations, unrealistic expectations and overall bad attitude), I never regretted studying abroad. Sure, I can say that I wish I had saved more money and kept to a budget so that I could have traveled more or done things differently. But regret? No way! So when I see that someone is having study abroad regrets, it saddens and frustrates me because I know from my personal experience how avoidable it is and I don’t want any student to have study abroad regrets.
What causes it?
“I regret study abroad” and “study abroad regrets” are simple, short phrases which do not shed any insight on why that student regrets their study abroad experience. I can only go off of my own as well as other students’ experiences that I know of. For us, our study abroad “regrets” came from expecting a dream experience abroad only to be faced with reality. Guest blogger Cindy put it perfectly when she said “In my head, I knew it wasn’t going to be all pretty sidewalk cafés and cute French boys and rainy cobblestoned alleys. But when you’re getting ready to pack up your life and move halfway across the world it’s hard not to have that feeling of wanderlust, to not feel that thrill of excitement for the unknown and to stop yourself from romanticizing it all anyway. Maybe not the country itself, but definitely the whole experience of [studying abroad].”
It’s not that students who choose to study abroad think that the host country is a perfect, peaceful paradise (well, I did but that’s another story). As college students, you are all too familiar with stress, disappointment, disagreeing with others, and overall bad days. What happens is that studying abroad is often sold as a dream instead of a practical and interesting way of increasing/obtaining skills and knowledge that will benefit your career. As a result, students are not always instructed to investigate the reality of cultural differences; improve language skills outside of the classroom; challenge him/herself to leave the comfort zone; adopt an accepting attitude; develop ways to cope with a bad day alone (without family and friends); how to get along with strangers who don’t speak your language or understand your culture. Maybe it’s assumed that students know to do further research. You are in college after all.
But sometimes, it’s nice to have your hand held and be told exactly what you need to do/ should expect, especially for something as monumental as moving to another country. I don’t know if there is some deep rooted princess fantasy at play but once I was officially enrolled in my study abroad program, the dreams just flowed. Dreams can be great- they foster innovation and creativity but they can be detrimental if not kept in check.
(Budget issues – photo by: mikefinnsfiction.wordpress.com)
But what if the study abroad regret didn’t come from broken dreams? What if it came from not being able to do everything you wanted due to lack of funds? I experienced a bit of this well. My first introduction to the word budget came while I was in Paris. Before going abroad, I lived in my own apartment but my mother helped me a lot with living expenses. When you only have to pay a few bills staying within your means is simple, especially when you have a part time job. Now imagine being overseas with no income to replenish your account and having to pay for food, laundry, metro passes, and everything you want to see or do. It’s easy to see how money can go pretty quickly. At 20 years old, most of us have never had to make a budget. I can definitely understand a student regretting not being able to see every museum because of lack of funds. But the whole experience? That would be unfortunate.
Why does it matter?
(study abroad regrets ARE avoidable – photo by: www.psychologytoday.com)
It matters because you are spending a lot of time, money, and effort for this experience. Studying abroad is too expensive and monumental an experience to spend regretting it. This experience should be the highlight of your twenties, not that thing you did in college that you really wished you didn’t. It’s also really important because study abroad regrets are COMPLETELY avoidable! How do you avoid them? By doing in- depth preparations (link back to Twenty in Paris) as soon as you are thinking about studying abroad. Don’t wait to start preparing until you applied to a program. It’s never too soon to start readying yourself for studying abroad to avoid study abroad regrets.
Think you’re ready to handle the monumental task of leaving behind family and friends for the first time to go study abroad for a semester or more? La vie parisienne is a beautiful one but not always an easy one! Don’t go abroad to be met with unpleasant surprises- find out what it’s like to transition to Paris and life abroad with new book The Paris Diaries: The Study Abroad Experience Uncensored