A letter to a future study abroad student: a melting pot of advice, suggestions, and other random things

Written by: Peer Advocate, Jacqueline Bickhaus

A letter to a future study abroad student: a melting pot of advice, suggestions, and other random things

Dear future study abroad student,
I am so jealous of you. Your upcoming endeavor may potentially be the best experience of your life. The idea of going to another country to study for a semester, year, or even just a week seems extremely daunting. It can be, but through your upcoming experience, you will learn a whole lot about yourself, discover just how much you are capable of, and launch yourself into the very real world far beyond the Butler Bubble. You may even try to talk yourself out of fulfilling this abroad experience in order to minimize those fears and doubts that may creep into your head, but I am here to remind you that you originally gained an interest for a reason, completed an application and had it accepted, and have taken all necessary steps to bring this dream of yours to fruition.

I have always considered myself a homebody for the most part– I love my family, love my
hometown, and love the rhythm of my life in the town where I have always grown up. Studying abroad in the Fall semester of 2021, I was anticipating homesickness and FOMO being in Spain for the first “normal semester after COVID.” I missed Homecoming at Butler, Thanksgiving, and the fun and festive preparations for winter holidays, amongst many other events and holidays.

However, I can be one hundred percent honest when I say that not once did I experience
FOMO. Obviously this is different for everyone, but I couldn’t bring myself to feel sad about missing early morning Homecoming festivities when I was visiting the majestic palace gardens of the Real Alcázar de Sevilla, or feel upset about not preparing Thanksgiving food walking through the Vatican and feasting on authentic pasta and gelato, or feel disappointed about not walking through festive holiday lights back home as I was on a swift forty-minute ferry ride to spend the day in Africa. Just know that your friends and family back home will love and support you nonetheless, even though you may not be physically present for these fun little events, and in fact, they will likely be jealous of you and sad that they are not getting to experience all that you are.

In Spain, they say “aprovechar el día,” which means take advantage of the day. That is probably the best advice I can supply in terms of studying abroad. Your experience will be like no other, and it’s extremely likely that you might never live something like it ever again. Whether you’re abroad for just a few days or a few years, take advantage of the day. Explore the area, walk around, discover cool places, talk to locals, try local food, travel, and do whatever your heart desires (use good judgment, of course).

Going right off of that, if you are studying a language in a country that speaks that language, don’t be embarrassed of your current ability level (no one cares how proficient you are except for yourself, nor does anyone have ANY sort of expectations for you going in) and use it OFTEN!! Take it from me, someone who felt confident in their Spanish skills prior to embarking but set EXTREMELY high expectations for myself at the beginning and therefore felt embarrassed and stupid while using it for the first week or so. It’s easier said than done, but don’t do that. The only way to improve your communication abilities is to practice, and the only way to practice is to put the fear of failure behind you and just go for it. I promise you, that will pay off so much more than refraining from communicating just to protect your pride that no one else even thinks twice about.

You are certain to experience some culture shock, as well, which may affect you more than you anticipated. Or maybe you’ve done your fair share of research and have prepared yourself to the best of your ability. Either way, you will notice a significant amount of things that are different from what we are accustomed to in the United States, and that’s just it: it’s not the United States. Do your best to avoid going in with any preconceived notions, and do yourself a favor by simply embracing the culture in its entirety as it is. Sure, there might be some things you are less than fond of, but there also might be some characteristics that you’ll fall in love with.

Open-mindedness is key. I could go on and on about what it’s like to study abroad, how immensely you will grow as a person, and offer up every piece of advice I can possibly think of (my family and friends can attest), but really, everyone’s experience is uniquely their own. Take it as it is; don’t compare; document your journey whether it be journaling, taking an unnecessary amount of pictures, posting excessively on your social media, making quirky lists on your notes app (highly recommend), or whatever other outlet best suits you. The best is ahead of you, time will fly, and you are about to enter a period of growth, development, adventure, and pure joy.

I hope you make the absolute most out of your experience– I would do mine all over again if I could. Enjoy your journey!

Buen viaje,
Jacqueline Bickhaus, 2023
Butler Semester in Spain, Fall 2021

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