What I Regret About Studying Abroad
Posted on May 23, 2019 by Auriel Moore
As someone who works in USA’s Office of International Education, my goal is to promote studying abroad to anyone that will listen. This means that I’m often highlighting how wonderful and transformative the experience is, but in this blog post, I’d like to talk about some of my regrets that I think about when I reflect on my first time abroad. It’s important to note that not every waking moment of living abroad is magical, and everyone who embarks on a journey to a foreign country will have setbacks, big or small. By talking about this, I hope to serve as an example of what not to do, so here are the five things I regret doing most while I lived in Alcalá de Henares, Spain.
1. NOT DOCUMENTING MY EXPERIENCE
I’d like to preface this by saying that I do have proof that I went to Spain, but the photos I have are not what I expected to bring back with me. During the lengthy process of filling out scholarships the semester before my trip, I was often asked what my goals were for a summer in Alcalá. Something I said more than once was I planned to keep a daily journal, in Spanish, of my experiences to improve my language skills and record what I was feeling. Did I do this? No. The only entries I have from that summer are my blog posts that served as a requirement for class, and they’re hardly a representation of what I was really thinking at the time. My instructor made us contribute blog posts precisely because she knew many of us wouldn’t consistently document the experience unless it was for a grade. I also have a great digital camera, and just like the diary, I planned on using it every day and taking thousands of pictures. Did I do this? Not really. I have maybe 200 photos, but as any amateur photographer will soon find out, you need to take many more pictures than that just to have a few great ones. In my defense, I lived in the present moment, and I didn’t care to stop and pull out my camera. On the other hand, if I had trained my artistic eye a little more before the summer, I could’ve found better moments to capture because the present is fleeting, and it would’ve been nice to be able to remember my time there more vividly for my future’s sake.
2. NOT DRESSING UP
My wardrobe was simple. I’m a very casual person, and I dress for comfort, so I was able to fit everything I needed into one medium suitcase for my checked luggage. This was a big mistake looking back on it. I got the idea of bringing one suitcase from my study abroad pre-departure class when a former employee stated that she only brings carry-on luggage when she travels, or whatever can be carried onto the actual plane. I had never packed for a trip longer than 2 weeks, so packing for 6 weeks was a complete nightmare. When I realized that I couldn’t fit everything into the smallest suitcase, I just barely crammed everything into my medium-sized suit case. Even then, the pieces I chose were versatile in the sense that I could create multiple outfits, but they were all casual. The downside to being comfortable was I always felt a little too casual whether I spent a night out with friends or attended our graduation ceremony.
3. PACKING HOURS BEFORE LEAVING THE HOUSE
This one really goes hand-in-hand with regret #2. If you takeaway anything from this post, let it be to never pack the day you have to leave for the airport! If your trip lasts 4 weeks or longer, get ready to do some planning! Since I didn’t take the time to plan my outfits, I didn’t spend time thinking about what occasions I should prepare to dress for. This is step is crucial because you need to make sure you’re dressed appropriately for all events and weather conditions. If I could do it over, I would bring more pieces to dress up for partying or formal events.
4. SKIPPING OUT ON SIESTAS
If you know even a little bit about Spanish culture, you know what I’m talking about. In Spanish, siesta means “nap,” and the tradition is pretty straightforward. In the early afternoon, many Spaniards take a short nap to rest after their midday meal or to escape the warm weather. If you’re not staying in a large city like Madrid, don’t try to run errands during this time because many establishments will be closed. When I was in Alcalá, I remember being either busy or too worried to go to sleep because I was afraid I’d miss out on something. I remember being exhausted on our second or third day in the dorms, so I decided to take a nap. I was so tired that I overslept by more than an hour later than I had planned, and when I woke up, every single person in my group had gone to dinner without me and hadn’t even noticed I wasn’t there. I think that day triggered some severe FOMO, and I never took another nap the entire time I was there, but I kind of wished I had in hindsight.
5. NOT SPEAKING MORE
This regret encompasses speaking in every manner. Mainly, I wish I had dared to speak more Spanish because that’s what I was there to practice. I was intimidated by how fast the locals spoke, but I was more so intimidated by the expectations other students had for me. I had been taking Spanish for while before going to Spain, and I tested well when I got there. I’m a good student but feeling pressured by other classmates to know all the answers made me afraid to make a mistake. I was reminded how you literally can’t learn a language without making mistakes, and the important thing is to try. I also regret not taking the time to get to know more people in my group. There were some people I clicked with instantly during the program, but they haven’t kept in touch since returning home, and there were also those to whom I barely said a word during the trip but have since become great friends. Lastly, I wish I could have spent more time with the other international students I met. Those I did speak with had such interesting stories, and I wish I could have learned more about them.
Earlier I used the statement “If I could do it over, I would…,” but technically, I am doing it over. This summer , I will be studying abroad in Russia for 8 weeks. The most important thing I can do to make the most of my next adventure is to learn from my mistakes and make a plan to do better next time. With what I know now, I plan to keep a daily journal in English seeing as how I’m still a novice at Russian, and I’m giving myself the goal to write only one paragraph per day and include three new, Russian vocabulary words to each entry to balance it out. By doing this, I’m taking the pressure off of writing a novella and keeping the focus on expressing myself and meeting my goal. I’ve also purchased an online photography course that I’ve already started using, so I can head to Russia with a better eye for capturing those special moments I want to remember for a long time.
As for my wardrobe, I’ll be planning outfits a month in advance and packing at least 2 nights before heading to the airport. I’m adding a few dresses and heels to my capsule wardrobe to feel ready for anything, and I’ve even adopted more efficient packing methods in order to bring more clothes. I’ve learned that I’m definitely not a “carry-on only” type of person, and this time, I’ll be bringing the largest suitcase for my checked baggage and the smallest suitcase with a backpack for the plane ride and shorter away-trips during my program. With all that said, the last thing I want to do is shy away from the locals, so this time around, I’ve requested to live with Russian roommates to really put my skills to the test and step outside my comfort zone once again.