Before you get lost in daydreams of mouthwatering Italian pasta or tantalizing flamenco lessons in Spain, ask yourself if you’re ready to go abroad. The time you spend studying abroad should be exciting and fun, but you will confront new challenges, too. Dealing with a situation outside of your comfort zone requires grace under pressure, maturity, and patience. If you are trying to determine if you’re ready to study abroad, ask yourself some questions and be honest with your answers.
Questions for Self-Reflection
Have you enjoyed traveling in the past?
Maybe you’ve never before left the country. Maybe your past travels are limited to beach getaways with your family or day trips to your state’s capitol building with your class. Whatever your experience is, reflect on it. Did you learn from your travels? Did they leave you itching to see more of the world? If you never felt like the experience was worth the hassle of packing or the time spent in the car, studying abroad isn’t for you.
Do you have experience living on your own?
You don’t necessarily need to have lived away from your family before you study abroad, but it certainly makes you better prepared for the independence you’ll have. Whether you’ve lived in the dorms or in your own apartment, you’ve taken on big responsibilities in the past. Those experiences translate well when you start building your own life in a new country.
Are you prepared to spend a long time away from friends and family?
Depending on the program you choose, you’ll be away from home—and campus—for anywhere from a couple of weeks to an entire year. Naturally, you’ll miss your friends and family, and the feelings can be even more extreme when big changes are on the horizon. Are you worried about your grandmother’s declining health? Is your brother getting married while you’re abroad? Being away from your family during times of grief and joy affects your emotional health. If you are anticipating a big event in the near future, make sure that you have the time and the money to return home from abroad to attend, consider a shorter study abroad program, or defer your departure by a semester.
Can you maintain your long-distance relationship?
If you have a significant other, think critically about how your relationship will change when you go abroad. Long-distance relationships require open communication. Keep in mind, however, that there’s a fine balance between putting in the work to maintain your relationship and spending your entire trip sitting in front of Skype or FaceTime. Neither you nor your partner should sacrifice a social life to send a constant stream of Whatsapp messages. Check in regularly with each other, but respect that your lives continue even when you’re apart. Are you committed and trusting enough? If not, rethink the relationship now. Jealousy and codependency don’t mix well with long distance.
Will you cope when you skip your favorite traditions?
Your favorite holidays probably aren’t recognized in your host country. South Africans won’t be setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July, and Chileans won’t be eating turkey on Thanksgiving. While you’ll surely miss your own customs, look forward to a taste of new celebrations: India’s Diwali, China’s Spring Festival, or Mexico’s Day of the Dead, among thousands of others.
Are you open-minded about weather conditions and seasons?
The four seasons aren’t as pronounced in every part of the world. If you hate the rain and the cold, you probably don’t want to visit New Zealand during your summer break (it will be winter south of the Equator). To study abroad, you’ll need an open mind and an updated wardrobe for foreign climates.
Are you respectful of cultural differences?
Studying abroad is different from teaching or doing service work abroad. It denotes learning from another culture, country, and religion rather than evangelizing on behalf of yours. Are you open-minded to differences? Are you a good listener and a respectful sharer? As a foreigner in your host country, it’s up to you to respectfully accept that its people may practice customs and politics that oppose your own. (In some more extreme cases, other cultures are less tolerant of marginalized groups, like people of color or the LGBT+ community, in which case your safety might be at risk, especially if you decide to outwardly protest your host country’s beliefs.) Remind yourself that you are there to observe, not interfere in a way that could endanger you. If you do not think you can be respectful of these differences, reconsider your trip or destination.
Will you diplomatically represent your school and country?
Anti-American sentiment runs deep in some parts of the world. Research your destination and its history before you go. Many parts of Central America and Africa have suffered from white, western imperialism. In the past, the United States has imposed cruel dictatorships, slavery, and oppressive economic policies on other countries. Locals may be suspicious of you. A few may target you for theft. Understand the role the United States played in the development of your host country, and be patient and understanding when locals do not immediately open up to you. As a U.S. student, you will be perceived as a representative of your country. You might be the only American some people have ever met, so your actions go a long way in forming other people’s perceptions of your home country. Be peaceful and diplomatic.
Can you improvise?
Not everything will go according to plan. Your flight might be cancelled, leaving you in Bogotá until further notice. Your luggage may not arrive at your destination. You might take the wrong bus and end up in a suburb of Quito. You can’t anticipate every hiccup, but you can be flexible. Studying abroad will test your ability to think quickly on your feet. In tricky situations, are you calm and assertive or do you panic?
Are you hardworking?
Some U.S. students go abroad to interact exclusively with other travelers and party. If your goals are to party hard, you are better suited to a vacation than to a study abroad program. Your home university will receive a copy of the grades you earned while abroad, and your credits will transfer and possibly affect your GPA. By all means, have a good time when you’re studying abroad—dance the night away in a Berlin nightclub or enjoy a Bordeaux wine tasting—but never at the expense of your studies.
Do you like to meet new people?
Introverts and extroverts alike value their friendships and connections to other people. As long as you are inspired by challenging discussions and thoughtful conversations, you’re a great candidate for studying abroad.
Are you willing to put in the effort and time to plan the trip?
This includes picking your destination and deciding which semester(s) you want to go. You’ll also want to arrange for the credits you earn to transfer back to your home university.
What Your Answers Mean
If you answered yes to the majority of the questions above, congratulations! You’re probably ready to study abroad, and it’s time to plan the experience. If you still don’t feel ready, that’s okay, too. You can consider postponing your trip until next academic year or studying abroad for just a few weeks instead of a semester. Take small steps to prepare, and trust your gut if you don’t think the experience is right for you.
Page last updated: 01/2019
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