5 Reasons to Study Abroad Without Your Friends

New Go Overseas article published and a must-read for anyone who’s worried about going abroad alone:

Studying abroad is a huge step in your academic career and also one of the biggest steps you can take outside of your comfort zone. For many students who go abroad, it is the first time they’ve been so far from home, away from their safety net of friends, family, and general familiarity. Just the idea of being without these can be terrifying, but when you add on culture shock and a language barrier, you might be ready to turn back and stay where you feel safe. Or you might consider going abroad with a friend or two, maybe even as a group.

Studying abroad with friends certainly has its benefits. You’ll grow closer and strengthen your relationship as you encounter new challenges together. You’re guaranteed to have someone to reminisce with when you finally return home. If you’re shy and don’t make friends easily, you’ll have someone with you from the beginning.

But you know what else has its benefits? Studying abroad alone. If you’re having a tough time choosing between what your campus offers (and your friends are doing) or a super cool study abroad program you found, follow your gut. Before you decide to study abroad with your friends, here are five reasons you should consider doing your semester abroad solo.

1. Work with your own schedule.

It’s easy for friends to say, “Let’s study abroad together!” What if the other person doesn’t follow through? Don’t miss out on this opportunity because of someone else. Put your own priorities first: decide when studying abroad works with your schedule, and make it happen. Once you’re abroad, you’ll continue to have the freedom to choose what you want to do and when to do it. Want to have a lazy day and stay in bed? Go right ahead (although we don’t recommend doing this often). Feel like having a museums-only day? You got it! Traveling solo is very efficient because you don’t have to wait for someone else or make compromises. You won’t feel held back – or feel that you’re holding others back – if you want to do something else.

You can read the full article here.

I was excited that this topic was included in my assignments. I studied abroad alone – I literally didn’t know a single person in my program of 170 students – and while it was difficult in the beginning, I’m really glad that I did it. I’d never really traveled alone before, and I had quite a sheltered life in high school and college because I was always around people who could take care of me and help me when I needed it. I have experienced so much personal growth, especially independence and self-reliance, by doing this. When you don’t have anyone to turn to, it’s sink or swim – so you better start swimming.  There are some crucial moments when you’re by yourself, panicking, and you have to tell yourself, “I can do this!” – and then you do it – and it’s very empowering. For me, one of those experiences was making my international flight solo and getting to my hotel in Madrid in one piece. I had a little breakdown in both airports because of some confusion and of course the language barrier, but if put in those situations again I know I could handle it now.

Yes, there are some downsides to going abroad without your friends. Adjusting to life in Spain was much harder without having anyone there who I could share my honest thoughts with, without being able to talk to someone who understood what I was going through. When I told my home friends about how things weren’t as great as I’d thought they would be, I’m sure they secretly thought I was being a Debbie Downer and just “needed to try harder” to be happy and positive (please don’t ever say that to anyone who’s studying abroad!). Adventures are better with company. Of course, these downsides only exist until you make new friends…

El Retiro, Madrid

One of my first photos in Spain (in El Retiro, Madrid) – not completely solo, thanks to a fellow Anteater abroad who took me around the city. Gracias Hannah!

Our last dinner together in Barcelona, sipping on sangria while waiting for our tapas

One of my final meals in Barcelona, with my new group of friends

If you’re worried about studying abroad by yourself, don’t be. You won’t be completely alone if you go without friends. You’ll have your program’s on-site staff, your host family, your roommates, classmates, whoever. If you’re very outgoing, you won’t have a problem at all making new connections. If you’re shy like me, you’ll be forced to come out of your shell and meet people, however painful that initial small talk may be.

Being on my own was cause for a lot of self-reflection, learning about who I was without my friends, and being able to pursue my own interests without worrying about needing someone there to hold my hand or make me feel less embarrassed about being alone. It’s entirely worth it.

Jennifer

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8 responses to “5 Reasons to Study Abroad Without Your Friends

  1. This makes me excited to study abroad by myself! I’ve already had a couple of freak out moments, when I’m thinking “why are you going through with this?” … but in the end I know it’s going to bed worth it! Hope you love Spain :)

    xx
    Sydney

    • Thanks for your comment Sydney! It’s going to be AMAZING and you’ll learn so much about yourself :) Unfortunately I’m already back in the US (I studied abroad last year) but still think about my study abroad semester all the time, sigh. I saw that you’re going to study in Morocco, awesome!

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  4. Thank you so much for writing this! I felt myself relate to you so much. I’m also kind of shy but I love to travel and I want to study in England for a semester. I’ve really been debating because I was unsure about going on my own. Just like you, I’ve grown up in a sheltered environment where I always had my friends and never had to be out of my comfort zone. This has really changed my prospective and shown me that I should go for it! Thanks so much!

    • Thanks for your comment Ashlynn, I’m SO glad to hear about how this helped you to decide to study abroad! The experience will really help you come out of your shell and I can honestly say I wouldn’t be who I am today if not for this experience :) Best of luck with everything!

  5. This is so cool. I’m trying to do a study abroad trip to London over the summer but I am super nervous about going by myself. I guess it’ll be easier and less freaking once I am actually there and seeing that I’m not the only person who came without friends. Did you meet a lot of other students who went alone?

    • Thank you for your comment! I wouldn’t be too nervous about going alone; when you study abroad, everyone’s pretty much in the same boat (imagine freshman year all over again) and eager to meet new people and explore. In my program, there were a lot of students who came from the same universities in the US but a lot didn’t seem to know each other beforehand.

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