1. You’ll realize you don’t matter.
No one in your new city will know you, and no one will care. No one will care that you have a perfect GPA at your elite school. No one will care that you’re a star collegiate athlete. No one will care that you’re the notorious S.H.I.T. back home. And that’s awesome. That’ll help you get over yourself and, in doing so, discover new, important, exciting things about your person, your passions, and your goals. Embrace the fact that you don’t matter. Let it redefine you.
2. You’ll be forced to be independent as fuck.
And the hardest part about your newfound autonomy will likely be that you—and not your overbearing, over-helpful mom/dad/school administrator/therapist/dog/life coach—will be left to deal with all the annoying, petty stuff adults have to do for themselves. Like when you lose your passport in Istanbul, for example… that’ll be a bitch and a half, and you’ll have to figure it the fuuuck out all by your lonesome. It’ll be good for you.
3. You’ll (hopefully) adopt a safer, more responsible attitude towards sex.
Time to grow up and realize that STDs are really, really not chill, kid! Unlike back at school where you’re under the horribly deluded impression that preppy collegiates are mostly clean and herpes-free, you’ll think twice before getting busy with a stranger without taking the proper precautions (latex is a gr8 place to start).
4. You’ll open your damn mind.
To new personalities, customs, foods, exercises, clothes, expressions of sexuality, modes of entertainment… new everything. You’ll start making a concerted effort to understand the world and the people that populate it in a way that—despite your liberal upbringing and political allegiances—you’ll no longer be too proud to admit you never have. And when you allow all this *new* to fill you, you’ll rapidly become a better, fuller, more beautiful person. And you’ll realize what a stupidly lucky little shit you are to have been afforded this singular, extraordinary opportunity to begin with.
5. You’ll learn to not sweat the small stuff.
A million and one things will go wrong while you’re abroad. You’ll lose your phone at a club in Barcelona right before you miss your 6 a.m. flight back to Amsterdam. Then you’ll completely fuck up all over again when you miss your stop on the 24-hour train ride you now have to take (cuz ain’t nobody got green to book another plane ticket). AND THEN you’ll finally make it home, only to realize that you locked your keys inside your place before you left. And then, fiiiiinally—48 hours and 49 nervous breakdowns later—after spending the night passed out on your doorstep, you’ll laugh about it all and get low-key stoked to have such a ludicrous story to narrate for years to come. You’ll take a fat, humbling step back and just be hella fucking grateful you managed to retain all your vital organs in the hilariously hellish process.
6. You’ll have to take responsibility for rationing your (minimal) finances.
For many of you, your semester(s) abroad will be the first time your parents let go of your grimy, financially dependent little paws and tell you to FIO. You’ll have to be judicious about how you allocate your cash—nobody’ll be hovering over you to make sure you’re using your better economic judgment at all times. It’ll usually suck—particularly when you find yourself eating buttered noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner during that week that you blow your budget on last-minute flights to Munich for Oktoberfest. But when you emerge relatively unscathed on the other side, you’ll be relieved that you’ve had a little financial planning practice.
7. You’ll start cooking for yourself.
Do your future self a huge solid by taking advantage of your dollhouse kitchen (and shoestring budget) and dabbling in the culinary arts—even if “cooking,” for you, entails subsisting mostly off of breakfast sandwiches and Nutella. Everyone’s got to start somewhere! You don’t want to be one of those spoiled ignants who takes some bizarre pride in not knowing how to fry an egg post-grad, so don’t be.
8. You’ll be forced to find alternate methods of communication.
Navigating the Paris metro when you don’t speak a word of French and have spent all your international cellular data will be a consummate pain in your ass. At the same time, though, you’ll find something critically beautiful and constructive about having to using your hands, body, and hyperbolic facial expressions to say, “Please, sir… how the hell do I get to the Louvre?” When you get back to the States, you may not even notice how that frustrating exercise translates into you communicating better in English—but, trust, it does. Learning how to speak without language is a very cool thing.
9. You’ll learn to appreciate and explore your home.
“Home” assumes new meaning abroad—“home” is unfamiliar, unlearned, and undiscovered. “Home” inspires exploration, wonder, and adventure. When you return to your “real” home, then, you’ll likely no longer see it with complacent, jaded eyes. You’ll realize—however subconsciously—that you had reduced “home” to a very narrow picture of what you always saw, what you always did, what you always ate… and you’ll now feel compelled to widen your lens. Your world will get bigger.
Have fun, kiddo. It’s gonna be a hell of a ride.