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Studying Abroad: Expectations vs. Reality

 With steady technological advancements, the global community is growing, bringing people from all over the world together. The opportunity to communicate with people from almost any location on the planet allows us to get to know other cultures and traditions while exchanging knowledge. That is the one thing that never loses its value throughout the years: education. Even more so, education becomes precious when acquired at a highly reputable institution. For many people, these appear to be located far away from their home countries. Thus, studying abroad has become increasingly popular among university students: 3.7 million people are considered international students nowadays. According to UNESCO's Institute for Statistics, this number will keep rising by 12 percent every year, and more young people are willing to explore the world parallel to their studies. But is studying abroad really what we think it is? Let's compare the expectations of such a life with the reality people usually face once it starts. 



When students arrive at their designated university for the first time, having just moved into a new apartment or university dorm, they expect their life to start overflowing with positive experiences. New friends, going out every night, seeing new places, diving deeper into another culture, improving language skills: these are all common expectations. However, everything may seem a little different once you are away from home, from those you love and miss. 


One of the first problems students usually face is feeling homesick. Of course, leaving your family and friends behind is easier when you are looking forward to something unique. But it may be overwhelming once you do it, and things don't go as planned immediately, especially if you have moved out of your parent's house simultaneously. It can feel as though you will never be a part of the old life you have left behind. Your friends', parents', and siblings' lives go on without you, and they are sharing experiences with other people now, which may make you feel excluded. 


Besides, setting up a new routine that doesn't involve anyone else may be challenging at first. Filling your day with activities without relying on someone else's presence is hard enough in your hometown, let alone an extraordinary city. It is crucial to remember that no one will judge you for spending time alone, whether it is in a restaurant, cafe, theater, museum, or park. Start looking at your alone time as a unique opportunity to get to know yourself better, understand your psychological stance, and get comfortable with your thoughts. If you succeed, the initial hopes of having numerous exciting experiences, seeing new things, and acquiring new external knowledge will be easy to fulfill.


Feeling sad, depressed, and lonely, not knowing what to do with free time, and being emotionally lost are a big part of moving to a new country. Moreover, the decision may initially seem wrong once all those emotions rush in. Many might regret choosing a university abroad and even start planning their return. However, although it may seem unlikely, these feelings will fade away as time goes by. As the course begins, many events bring students together. Many universities even have special meet-ups and introductory meetings for international students. These aim to make their transition more comfortable and help them befriend fellow students. 


Even though there are many networking opportunities, some may find it difficult to make genuine connections. For example, introverts generally have problems approaching people and making new friends. Therefore, you may think it difficult to find a new group of friends to hang out with during your time abroad, especially at the beginning. Those expectations of a whole, fun life filled with energy and unforgettable experiences will seem unattainable for a while. So it is essential to stay open and maintain positive energy to appear more approachable. 


Another expectation that may not be fulfilled right away is the idea of embracing a new culture, finding local friends, and practicing the language. For non-native speakers, connecting with foreigners in their speech may be challenging, as the language barrier hinders them from feeling free and being themselves. The inability to communicate with others freely puts a lot of pressure on students, not only in terms of education but also in terms of social life. Although, once they overcome the language barrier, life seems much easier to navigate. 


At the end of their time abroad, many worry about going back home. Is everything going to be just the way they have left it? Are things going to fall back into place quickly and smoothly? The short answer is no, of course not. People will be different, grown up, and changed. Their routines will be other, their preferences, their lives. But so will yours. It is undoubtedly hard to adapt to a new environment. But so is incorporating into a changing climate that you have once known. 


Besides, leaving a new life built from scratch in a foreign place is more complicated than leaving the old one at the end of the day. Students leave behind people they already have tight bonds with when going abroad. Most likely, genuine connections and friendships will last until they get back. However, moving back home means leaving those new friends and acquaintances too. Are we going to stay in touch? Am I ever going to have the same experiences again? These questions keep passing through their minds regularly. Unfortunately, there is no definite answer to them. It all depends on the people and the circumstances. Of course, those pure emotions that the time abroad gives can never be replicated. But these will come back in various shapes and forms, exciting every time. 


In conclusion, studying abroad may seem like an opportunity to take no matter what. However, students must weigh every pro and con equally when deciding. It may seem like a fairytale come true. But don't be mistaken: it has many underlying problems and challenges that no one discusses. Although, the experience of building a life somewhere new all by yourself is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to test yourself. Life is only worth living if you're not scared of facing new daily challenges. 

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