The things I wish I knew before studying abroad
Before I left for London I had a bunch of friends who had been here before tell me all about the restaurants I needed to try, the best bars to go to, and which residence hall was better to live. These things were all extremely helpful at first, but I found that this advice fell a little short of what I really needed to know for the semester. I only went to a few of the restaurants that were recommended to me because, like New York, London has thousands of restaurants and I’m a sucker for wandering into a new restaurant that looks great. Same goes for bars and pubs, I eventually started going to the ones my friends and I found together. As for residence halls, I found that though NYU is accommodating of lifestyle preferences, there are only so many places for students to live, and I really had very little say over where I was placed.
What I wish people had told me goes far beyond the typical recommendations that one would give for a long weekend visit to a city. I wish someone told me how difficult it really was to be so far from home for so long. I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Europe before so I just assumed this semester wouldn’t be much different; it was. A semester is a lot longer than six weeks, not to mention more expensive. In six weeks you are running around having the best adventure of life, seeing as many sights as possible. In six weeks you don’t have to create a routine for yourself or come up with a reasonable budget that will last you for a while; or learn to live long-term without your favorite foods or easy access to family and your closest friends.
This does not mean I haven’t had the most incredible experience studying in London. On the contrary I think these adjustments have made for a better semester for me. I’ve had to test my limitations and try to figure out what my comfort zone is, what I need to function. For those planning I semester abroad I would tell you to mentally prepare yourself for this. There’s nothing you can really do to actually prepare yourself for the epiphanies that are bound to come or the homesickness that will creep up on you, but it’s important to know that these things are natural. For a while I thought I was the only person who seemed be undergoing some sort of existential crisis while studying abroad and I was disappointed in myself. I love adventure and I revel in delving into the unknown, so I was ashamed that I was feeling homesick. After I realized that most of my friends were undergoing the same thought process, I was able to talk to them about it and I realized that being away for so long is hard on everyone. However, if you have people you can talk to and if you realize that these things will happen at some point, it all gets much easier.
Of course I have an endless list of my favorite places to go in London and the rest of the European cities I visited, but my to do list for anyone planning a new semester abroad goes like this:
1. Document your experiences whether through photos, a journal, a blog, or just telling someone stories.
2. Try new foods and venture into pubs and restaurants that look cool to you.
3. Don’t be afraid to bond with a new friend group; they are not replacing your friend group back home.
4. Know that it is perfectly normal to feel like you are undergoing some existential crisis and that you are homesick. The sooner you accept this, the easier it becomes to feel more at home in your new city.
5. Have fun! Most people never get this opportunity; so don’t take it for granted.
(The image is my own and was taken from Millenium Bridge)