Dispelling the Study Abroad Myth


EMILY FRITZSON- I have been in Spain for 5 weeks now, and it has undoubtedly been the most emotionally challenging 5 weeks of my life. I knew that spending a semester abroad would be tough at the beginning. But I naively assumed that once I got over the jetlag and had moved in with my host family that my study abroad experience would be a dream– that I would have a blissful three months of incredible adventures and divine food as portrayed by all the Facebook and Instagram photos I’d seen of others who’d studied abroad. But I haven’t found this to be case.
Five weeks later (almost a third through the semester!) and there are still days when I wake up and encounter a moment of disorientation. What I’m doing here? I want to hop in my car rather than have to walk to the metro to get where I need to go. I want to be able to communicate exactly what I want to say. And yes, sometimes all I want is to give my mom a hug.
Not only am I adjusting to a new country, but I am also adjusting to a completely new group of peers, a new language, a new living situation, and an entirely new lifestyle. I’m doing all this having been plucked from my support system and now coping with the time zone inconvenience of being six hours ahead of them. It’s been hard finding a balance between rest, work and play. Time management, something I normally command with ease, has become difficult. I’m not entirely convinced that I will ever reach a concrete routine like I have at Skidmore. I’m not going to be able to get to the gym everyday. I’m not always going to be able to eat exactly what I want. I won’t always wake up with a plan for the day. But I’m learning to be open to whatever happens and accept that that is perfectly okay.
I spent so many months planning for my time abroad that it took on a mythical quality– Spain was my future. So now it’s very odd having to think beyond Spain while simultaneously trying to make the most of every day here. What am I going to do this summer? Where and with whom am I living next year? What classes will I register for? What about post-grad?? These are all questions that require my attention now. My body is in Spain but my mind has to be at least partially in the U.S., something that I was completely unprepared for prior to my arrival here.
There is a widespread myth that the abroad experience is filled only with positive moments, feelings, and thoughts. But this expectation is completely unrealistic, so to try to live up to it will only make you feel inadequate. I know that I personally felt ungrateful or like I was “doing it wrong” when I first realized how hard it can be to be 3,300 miles from home. But as the Tufts-Skidmore staff has assured all of us, there is no way to do this the wrong way.
I think many students, including myself, come abroad expecting to overcome the initial culture shock and breeze through the rest of the semester without problems. But just like a semester at Skidmore, life happens. There are good days and bad days, easy days and difficult days, highs and lows. So if you’re thinking about studying abroad, keep this reality in mind, because I think that the sooner you accept it, the easier you’ll find the abroad experience.

Emily Fritzson, Skidmore in Madrid

Emily Fritzson, Skidmore in Madrid

I don’t mean to sound like a Debbie Downer. Although I have experienced a roller coaster of feelings and thoughts in the past weeks, this has also undoubtedly been the most rewarding experience of my life. I have learned more about myself in the past 5 weeks than I ever could have imagined. Being abroad, for me, has been about learning to accept the complete instability and spontaneity that comes with being outside of my comfort zone. I have already met so many people from both the U.S. and Spain that I never would have had the opportunity if I had chosen to stay at Skidmore. And before we know it, it’ll be May and we will have to say goodbye to the lives we have created for ourselves here. Lives that, far from perfect, will most certainly be unforgettable.

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