Ask a fifth-year: Some tips for studying abroad

Doreza WillDear Will,

I was accepted into a study abroad program for this Spring Term, but I have all sorts of fears and doubts about it. I don’t know how I’m going to raise the money in time. I’m just in general nervous about living in a foreign country for such a long time. What should I do?

-Stressed in Senegal

Dear Stressed,

First of all, find a way to overcome the challenges you are facing right now. It’s very important that you’ve made the decision to study abroad and to back out now would be something you would surely regret.

There are many people at Lawrence who will help you find ways to get the money. Make sure you’re keeping your financial aid counselor, as well as the Off-Campus programs director up-to-date. If you have to take out a loan—no big deal. Most of us, for better or worse, are already deep in the habit of spending money we don’t have.

Then there’s the issue of your fears—academic failure, and general fear of being away from a familiar environment for a few months. Let me reassure you that these are truly fears worth conquering—in my own study abroad experience at the London Centre, learning to manage fear was really what helped me grow as a person and an intellectual.

I will say, however, that in most study-abroad programs you won’t have to worry about academic stress. The people in charge are well aware that what you really want to do is get out and explore your surroundings rather than hole up in a library for hours on end.

So, they’ve built the curriculum around this spirit of exploration. At Lawrence’s London Centre, most classes involve a component of going out into the city to art museums, theatres or historical landmarks, so you’re getting to see the city and receive a liberal-arts education all at the same time.

I can really identify with the fear of leaving home, too. You’re surrounded by new people, a new culture, new rules, new foods and definitely a new sense of independence and freedom. You’ll have to step way out of your comfort zone and realize you may very well be sleeping in confined spaces with complete strangers.

Sound familiar? It should. You’ve done this already. Simply by moving to Lawrence, you’ve learned how to adjust successfully to a completely new environment. And don’t underestimate what a challenge that can really be for people and how learning to live in a different country is really not that much more difficult.

It’s definitely an adjustment that I guarantee you’re prepared for—but it’s going to give you an even deeper liberal arts experience than your domestic comrades. However, its a challenge in its own to get the most out of studying abroad—your everyday decisions really have a major part in shaping your overall experience.

And I’ll say what I’ve been saying for the past few weeks in my column—don’t let silly trivial fears get in the way of taking risks. Go to that hole-in-the-wall restaurant rather than McDonald’s. If you find you like fish and chips, don’t allow yourself to get away with ordering that every time you go to a pub. Hate Germany? Spend a week in Germany.

It’s so important when you’re abroad to soak up as much as possible because, even though it may seem like a long time, it will fly by and the time you spend lazing about the flat is time you’ll wish you had used in the future. That said, it’s wise to realize there is definitely a healthy balance of activity and rest that you’ll need to figure out.

When you get back, you’ll find regret is actually a huge challenge. You’ll want to remember your time abroad fondly, but regret will get in the way. As I’m currently dealing with this challenge myself, I have a hard time giving you advice on how to overcome it. What I’ve found to work is realizing that being abroad in general has changed me in eye-opening ways that I’ll be unpacking for years to come—so I should stop dwelling on what I should have done and be excited for how I’m going to see the world in the future.