No matter where I go, I always find myself lost. I am notoriously known for always using a GPS or Google Maps, I can be far from punctual and I am horrible at taking direction.
But from being abroad this semester in Salamanca, Spain, the word "lost" has taken on new meaning. "Lost" for me now extends to homesickness, jet lag and culture shock. It's wondering if other students will ask for your company tonight, or hoping service on Viber isn't too fuzzy to talk to your mom.
It's avoiding walking too late at night and turning off social media to escape "FOMO."
But don't get me wrong. It isn't that studying abroad is not amazing, because it is. So far, I have eaten, drank, smiled and laughed too much with my host family. My unhealthy passion for Spanish is filled as I weave in and out of conversation every day with natives and fellow students in Salamanca. I walk every day to class, filled with a sense of pride and accomplishment knowing I am in another country, actually immersing myself in something new and interesting.
But no one ever talks about the dark sides of being abroad, specifically the loneliness. So it got me thinking, if anyone goes abroad, what are some ideas I would suggest?
1. Reach Out.
This is the biggest piece of advice I can offer. Reaching out even for extroverts like myself can be difficult. If we ask to hang out with someone and we get rejected, it stings. But waiting around for invitations to go to clubs, bars or parties does nothing but waste precious time. As they always say, the worst they can say is "no," and remember there are thousands of people probably living in your chosen destination.
When I decided to take a stroll, I walked down the stairs from my house and saw a dance academy with affordable classes. This semester, I am learning flamenco, Latin dances and the Argentine tango, all at a much cheaper price than my American classes. I am also taking Spanish guitar lessons. The world has a lot to offer, so take advantage of it!
It's obviously true that traveling across Europe is more affordable than traveling from the U.S. to an exotic destination. If you are abroad, plan your trips out in advance to get cheaper flight tickets. This semester, I am going to amazing places like Amsterdam and Rome. Save up and plan, plan, plan!
4. Avoid Laziness.
During my free time, part of me wants to turn on "Netflix," and engross myself in One Tree Hill reruns. But remember you have limited time. Buy a journal and walk to a nearby cafe. Strike up conversation with new and interesting people. Find museums, listen to street music, or drink wine in an outdoor restaurant. For me, I am trying to engage more with the real world than the fictional one.
It's true what they say -- going abroad is one of the best experiences in your college career. It is that time where you aren't limited by bills, mortgages or real "adult" responsibilities and the "fun" in university takes a global meaning. But like anything, it has downsides. For me, it was starting from scratch with friendships and discovering new things to do on the weekends besides mixers with my sorority.
So in that sense, it's been an incredible growth experience for me, like it should be for anyone. I wish you the best of luck.