What no one tells you about studying abroad

Daniel Cramer in Berlin

Daniel Cramer in Berlin

I know what you’re thinking: “No one wants to hear about your weird semester abroad and how you’re super European now and how you hate America - blah blah blah.”

I have to be honest; study abroad was great. I met amazing people, and I did have fun and weird experiences that I’ll laugh about for years, but I promise you this article isn’t that.

I’m here to give you the hard facts and the cold truth.

The parts of study abroad no one really talks about, but everyone experiences. For instance, there's this strange feeling that you’ll be returning home soon. That feeling continues on until you’re a month into the semester. It hits you suddenly - almost like it did freshman year - that you’re not going home tomorrow or next week, but in 3 or 4 months - and you will be different when you do.

Then there’s the mid-semester blues, which hit us at home too, but they strike a little deeper when you're far from home. Don’t worry too much about this though; with new friends they dissipate as quickly as they came.

I think the strangest feeling though is when you notice things going on back at home and realize you’re truly on the outside looking in. Whether it be the midterm elections, organizations or clubs you participated in last semester (like The Rival), or just receiving emails from school and thinking “I’m not there, why are they sending me all this stuff?” It’s a feeling I have a hard time explaining, and one you’ll have to experience to fully understand.

The greatest reflection on your choice of school happens abroad.

I never had to talk so much about Charleston as I did in Germany. Being the only person from C of C, I spent a lot of time explaining Clyde the cougar, our obsession with pineapples, the constant flooding and hurricanes (by the way I actually missed the hurrication this year) and, of course, Kickin’ Chicken. Being the only person from your school makes you more aware of and enriches your feelings about your home school. For example, after fondly explaining all things Charleston and C of C, I found that I loved, and missed, my school!  

That being said, there is, of course, still the greater reflection on the cultural differences of your new temporary home and America. I studied abroad in Germany, so I don’t think that I experienced as much culture shock as people studying elsewhere since much of American culture is founded in German culture. People also sometimes comment that Charleston is more European than other U.S. cities, and, after living in a European city for an extended period of time, I can attest to that statement.

Like any other European city, Charleston has relatively reliable public transportation, and the peninsula is small enough to walk or bike almost anywhere you need to be. There are cafes on almost every street corner, some streets are too narrow to drive a car down, and half of those streets are still cobblestone. Horse-drawn carriages are still dotted across the peninsula. On top of that, more than half the buildings are more than 100 years old, are impossibly skinny, and have a distinctly European charm to them. So, if you decide to study in Europe, don’t be surprised if you’re quicker to feel a little bit more at home than the other people in your program.

All in all, I had a great semester and could tell you so many stories you would never believe, but you’ll have those experiences for yourself; you don’t need to hear about mine. I feel it's more important that I share the things we all go through on this peculiar - but exciting - adventure, especially in a time when media, in all its forms, has such a great impact on our lives.

So, if you’re thinking about studying abroad and have the means to do it: do it.

You’ll enjoy every marvelous moment, and when it’s all done, you’ll have made some irreplaceable memories.

There are only two things to remember above all else: First, invest time in having deep, meaningful conversations with the people you meet; you’ll learn more about yourself and others (which is what the whole experience is about). Second, take time to reflect. Sometimes it’s good to just be with your thoughts.

Article by Culture Editor Daniel Cramer, @danielcramer98