The typical study abroad student posts beautiful pictures on Instagram of the beach. On their snapchat story they include the geo-tag of the cool location they are visiting that weekend. Friends comment “live your best life”, hyping up each and every picture vicariously living through their experience.This all contributes to the perception that studying abroad is a semester long vacation. As much as I wish I could write about life changing trips to the beach sipping margaritas on a Tuesday afternoon, I can’t. My reality is, in Peru it is not even summer yet and at night I sleep with five blankets because it is so cold. I can’t go out on Tuesday afternoons because I have class the next day. There are definitely parts of this experience that are incredibly relaxing, like not working 4 on campus jobs, but it is not what I classify as a vacation. Through this blog post I hope that you I can better explain what study abroad is actually like.
Personally I like to use the words cultural immersion (and I guess in my case language immersion as well) experience. A large part of a cultural immersion program is pushing your boundaries. If you are not consistently living right on the edge of your comfort zone, then you’re not having as full of an experiences as you could be. It is a giant leap to get on a plane and leave your home country for a semester, and it is important to remind yourself of the attitude you had when making that decision, in order to continue to make choices outside of your comfort zone.
While living outside of your comfort zone is the very basis of studying abroad, you are also faced with the emotional reality of living outside of your comfort zone. You are constantly in a state of being overwhelmed. One on level you are overwhelmed because you are constantly uncomfortable. In both of the classes I have in Spanish I simply just stare at the professor hopeless because I either have no idea what they are saying or I am just hoping through my expression they will get the message, “please speak slower”. The other level is feeling overwhelmed from the long list you create of places you want to go, and there doesn’t seem to be enough weekends to travel everywhere. In the states, I would always say “there isn’t enough time in a day,” but while studying abroad a day turns into an hour, a week turns into a day, and a month turns into a week.
As much as I wish I could say that my time in Peru is a vacation, it is far from it. Monday-Thursday I have one class for three hours right in the middle of the day. In half of those classes I am listening to someone speak a completely different language. Unbeknownst to me I am in one of the best schools in the Peru for business and economics, which means the workload is heavy. In addition, Every weekend is packed with excursions and if you do not go on an excursion, then why did you even come to study abroad, am I right? In addition, I have to find time in my schedule to practice Spanish, make new friends and keep up with my friends from back home. The real reality of studying abroad is the fact that it is the same amount of work, if not more, than being at your home university.
On the other hand this post may come from a place of being overwhelmed and in culture shock, so while I write about the bad I must also mention the good. The good being the opportunity I had last weekend to explore the city I am in, and learn about the rich history that is in Centro Histórico de Lima. Walking around the city I was able to see the variety of cultural influences, from the balconies that were inspired by the Islamic religion, to the signs flashing “Chifa” outside of restaurants indicating the mixture Chinese and Peruvian food sold there. I would have never truly gained a global perspective having stayed in the United States.
Global perspective and personal growth is the main reason why students travel abroad. While you are faced with the challenges of being a foreigner, the immense knowledge you gain about yourself is totally worth it, and you don’t usually learn while on vacation, right?