What I Wish I Knew Before Studying Abroad
Studying abroad is no child’s play, although you do seriously feel as though you were a three-year-old set loose in the middle of a giant playground. And mind you, this playground is full of surprises and mirages. The cotton candy you saw from afar might just be a stack of books in the library. The ferris wheel you can see might be filled with people you never thought you’d see. Now that the metaphors are dealt with, here’s the good, the bad, the awesome, the ugly and the unexpected of studying abroad, or as I like to call it, travelling to an alternate universe. These are the things I wish someone had given me a blow-by-blow of before I stepped into my alternate universe:
How tedious the visa process is
When I say tedious, I mean the-Tom-and-Jerry-kind-head-exploding-out-of-frustration tedious. The visa process involves more documents than you might ever have seen in your life. Not to mention how confusing it gets with notarising documents, preparing them, handing them in at the visa office, and then repeating the ordeal if you ended up making a mistake. Maybe you weren’t prepared for the visa process but all of that running around trying to make things perfect will train you for the life that awaits you in a few months. Ten points to UKVI for giving me lessons.
It won’t end until a minute before your flight has taken off. Chances are you might not even use half the stuff you’ve carried. When they say pack light, truly, just pack light. A strategy I wish I had followed was: make a list of things you will really need, and eliminate stuff that you haven’t used in the past six months because clutter is something you won’t be able to tolerate once you’re alone. Your family will tell you to take a bunch of things they think you will definitely use but I wish I’d kept in mind that Indian families are big on exaggeration.
The travel anxiety
It is real as the sunrise. This is the point when you’re separating, when you can see yourself stepping out of your comfort zone. Whether your parents are coming to drop you off to the country you’re going to, or if you’re going to be by yourself on that long haul plane, travel anxiety grips you very hard. And if I had been told that the butterflies would be so jittery, I’d have taken some meditation apparatus along. But the one thing that I thought is universal and slightly poetic, is just breathing. That’s the only way you survive when you’re surrounded by familiar people. And it’s the only way to survive when strangers are all around.
The pain of leaving those you love
You don’t feel it until you’ve seen tears in the eyes of your parents. My bus from London to Newcastle was to leave at 6am, and watching my parents standing outside, waving goodbye to me as they cried their hearts out despite ten other onlookers around, made it really difficult to say goodbye. It is never easy to part from the people you’ve grown up with whether they be your parents, your friends or your family. And no matter how prepared you think you are that pain will be real. But what can ease that a bit is the determination to make your family proud. Also, living alone brings a lot of peace so look forward to that!
The euphoria of solitude
Living alone is great. Most of the time you don’t know what you’re doing unless there’s a ton of assignments you’ve been given. There’s peace, quiet, the freedom to do what you want. But there’s also a void where you really don’t know what you’re doing or where you’re going. Of course there’s Google maps but even that won’t prepare you for the twisted journey of mixed feelings that is solitude. One thing I wish I’d been told was to learn to make connections. In any case, here’s a guide for you:
The trouble of doing every single thing on your own and then falling in love with it
The most annoying part of living alone is doing things on your own. It will take up most of your time in figuring out how to multitask like your mother does every day. Thank her, because all of her nagging probably made things easier than they seem. I wasn’t prepared to handle things on my own the moment I was thrown into that world, but once I got used to it, it started stacking together like puzzle pieces. Here’s a helpful piece for you though.
The anxiety of meeting new people and then making the most unforgettable of friends
If you’re a socially anxious person like me, chances are, you’ll have a hard time talking to people. But despite knowing that the world is dark and scary, you might be surprised at how nice some of your prospective friends can be. Once you do begin to let your guard down and talk to more and more people, you’ll realise how easy it is to make friends. But if you’re a bit confused on the ‘how to talk to people’ front, I’ve got you, friend. Here’s a comprehensive guide:
Some mornings you might wake up wondering where on the face of the earth you’ve landed. Other times you might think why you left the comfort of your home to get out and do things on your own, which you clearly are bad at. But this homesickness is temporary for some, like me. I got over it pretty quickly, although it did manage to mess up my head how difficult life gets when you’re no longer screaming at mom because you can’t find something. Out there, in the big, bad world, it is your job to look for that pink sock you swore you washed last night. It gets better with time though here’s a poster I wish someone had given me so I could put it up on my wall.
The settling in
With time, settling into an independent, solitary environment becomes second nature. But the beginning of nearly everything abroad has its own challenges. You adapt to the new lifestyle, fall into a routine and begin enjoying the responsibility of none but yourself. The feeling is exhilarating but it’s also unexpected and new, so here’s something to keep you from going into the ‘oh my god I’m so happy that I’m alone’ high.
I was probably prepared for everything life might throw at me while I lived alone, but the one thing I really wasn’t prepared for was the return home. Once you’ve lived away from your family and friends, your life goes on a fast-forward track that takes you to so many places, while back home, everyone is still living the same life they were living when you left. Nothing prepares you for the reverse culture shock and the unsettling feeling in the pit of your stomach after you come back home once your studies are done. That feeling of love, warmth and comfort returns, but the taste of independence is a grip that never loosens. Once the initial excitement is gone, it’s all adult life terrors. Lucky for you, I give out lessons on this.
The blank canvas of future
It’s not all bleak for us adults, you know. Much as it seems so. Once you’ve lived alone and you return to your former life, you still have years ahead of you (given the apocalypse doesn’t doom us forever). The canvas is blank. Your hands fill the void and now you know what you’re doing. Well, for the most part at least. For example, I wasn’t prepared to see how much clearer my vision would get once I studied abroad. I recognised my passion in life and prepared a five-year plan. Which involves a lot of binge-watching television but every life is incomplete without that, so we’re sorted anyway. Although for your convenience, here’s a blank canvas, fill it with your dreams. Or just draw some nonsense, what does it matter.
There you have it. That’s as much my experience outside of my comfort zone taught me and prepared me for life ahead. It certainly would do the same for you, and if you follow my carefully collected guidelines, you will win at life. You can thank me later.