As I start to mull over everything that happened to me in the past four months, I can’t help but come up with one cynical conclusion: going abroad sucked.
You should have some background before judgment: I have been fortunate enough to travel a lot in my life. I even lived in Paris last summer (highly recommended for you artistic types). My parents have always taught me to see as much of the world and its cultures as possible to broaden my horizons, and hopefully make me a better person. The verdict is still out on that last one.
So when I went abroad I did my research. What does your school tell you? It will be the most life-changing experience ever. It will make you do things you have never done before, question things you never questioned, blah, blah, blah. I felt like I was inhaling unicorn farts it all was so magical. Once I got here I quickly came to realize most of it was bullshit.
A semester abroad used to be decidedly less common, reserved for those with the means and the courage to do it. Neither of my parents even had an abroad program when they went to college, and they definitely couldn’t have afforded it if they had had the chance. I can remember college visits a few years ago, when the tour guides would always boast about the percentage of students who went abroad and you felt like there was no way you couldn’t go abroad. Obviously this isn’t true of all schools, but I went into college with these dreams of living in a beautiful, historic, and mysterious European city with countless international friends and endless opportunities to re-invent myself.
I am not saying this couldn’t happen to you. You are truly blessed if it does. The closest I came was when I went alone to live in Paris and for the first month ate half a baguette and a glass of wine alone in my room for dinner; Friday nights got sexy with a spoon in the Nutella jar and my Netflix account. But once I got over the fact that I would need to be a real human and make friends everything became decidedly easier and more wonderful and by the end I couldn’t even imagine going back home.
I knew London would be different. I would need to take classes (and pass them), I would be living in a flat I found on my own, and doing “grown-up” things like paying bills and buying groceries other than Nutella. I thought my university would serve as a liaison to the British culture that had always appealed to me. The staff would be international, the classes would be all around London, and the curriculum would be as multicultural as possible. The claim that I believed was that I could live like a Londoner, but go back home in time to graduate in four years.
What I got instead was a saturated version of my university back home- same people, same hook-ups, same drama, and same unfulfilling classes. The difference was that there was less room to avoid each other, more opportunities to hate each other, and a feeling of being on the outside of it all at all times. You go out, and you are guaranteed to be in a group of Americans. You meet another group of Americans. You try to avoid your American-ness only to be overshadowed by your accent and your obnoxious drunk counterparts chanting “USA! USA! USA!” I am not trying to say that all American students are rambunctious assholes, in fact I sort of take pride in being one myself. But for someone who took the time and money to make it to London for four months, I expected more. I would normally say I am realistic, and am never one to have delusions of grandeur when it isn’t appropriate, but you have this ingrained impression of how it should be and you feel let down by it all when it isn’t.
Going abroad should be titled, “A Semester Abroad: It could Suck, or not!” The idea that it is the best time of your life is bullshit. It might not be, and it doesn’t have to be. I feel disappointed, almost like I failed my semester abroad because I didn’t have the best time. Everyone has shoved this idea of ‘happiness or nothing’ down my throat for so long that I actually believed it. What this experience has really taught is to stop believing others’ should and start relying on your own could. It could be great if you do your research and find the right program for you. It could be amazing if you find some great people to hang around. It could be the best experience of your life if you let it be. But that also comes with the acknowledgment that not everything will be unicorn farts- some of it will just be shit. And I had a lot of shit. Maybe that means I did fail my semester abroad, because I didn’t get past the should’s and onto the could’s.
So for those who are thinking about going abroad, remember to have fun. But also remember that it might not be what you were expecting. And for those of us who are “abroad failures,” back to Netflix.