Ask college graduates who have studied abroad what their favorite part of college was, and second only to "not having any real adult responsibilities yet," they will most likely name the time they spent studying abroad (if they were lucky enough to do so). Whether you go for a six-week program with a group of students from your school, spend two back-to-back semesters in a different country all on your own (that would be me), or do something in between, everyone's study abroad experience is unique and memorable. And while not everyone has a 100 percent positive experience (we all know that one person who was homesick basically 24/7), for those who really loved studying abroad, there are a few stages of the experience that we can all relate to. From initial excitement/panic to the painful experience of coming home, here are the 17 stages of studying abroad.
1. You Tell EVERYONE
Before you depart, you tell everyone you know that you are leaving. I took secret joy in being asked what classes I was taking next semester. "WELL, I'm actually studying abroad all semester, so..." I would answer. As if I wasn't taking classes there as well. It didn't matter; you want people to know — strangers, co-workers, friends, the barista at Starbucks. Everyone.
2. All-Consuming Panic Upon Arrival
Some people are nervous before they depart, but my situation (and I've found many other students experience) is that I had zero anxiety about the move... until the first night in my new dorm. I knew no one, had no connection to anyone in the city, and the guy who lived downstairs was blasting dub step until 5 a.m. which, you may be surprised to learn, is not calming. After a day or two of silly "should I just go home?" questions, I settled in just fine. But initially? Total panic.
3. One Week In: Your Friends Back Home Are Already Annoyed At Your Posts
Caption: "So this is my walk to the grocery store."
So you finally get rid of your nerves, adjust to the time change, and make some friends. You are on top of the world. Look! You get to ride your bike to the grocery store! How cool! You go to coffee places that aren't Starbucks. Your friends are from other countries now. They have accents. You post about all of it. Everyone hates you.
4. You Suddenly Go Out All. The. Time
Something about studying abroad just makes you want to have more fun than usual. You don't know anyone, you're living a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you aren't underage anymore, so why not have six kamikaze shots and then go to your 9 a.m. class the next morning like nothing happened?
5. You Begin Telling Everyone That, "Everything Is, Like, So Much Better Over Here"
This one is pretty straightforward. You talk about how much better the quality of life is, how you don't miss fast food at all, and how you really just feel so much more challenged by the people around you because there's, like, so much more diversity. Again, everyone back home hates you.
6. Momentary, Intense Infatuation With Someone, Mostly Due To Their Accent / Exotic Appeal
When I say mostly, I mean entirely. You could be almost 75 percent sure that they are a sociopath, but they seem so foreign and mysterious and exciting, right? So you just embrace the study abroad cliché and go with it.
7. You Forget About The Exchange Rate
Something that is 30 euros at Zara suddenly beings to seem like 30 dollars to you. You happily forget about the exchange rate, accidentally spend $400 on an afternoon in town, and proceed to live on cheap wine for a week. Oops.
8. You Discover You Actually Like To Dance
The first time I went out with my new friends abroad, one of them said to me, "You don't really dance much, do you?" Of course I didn't dance much. The dancing I knew only really consisted of grinding against some dimly lit stranger at a gross club. At some point during your time abroad, you don't really learn to dance (at least I didn't), but you learn to like it. A lot.
9. You Find Yourself In Discussions About American Policies That You Don't Know How To Successfully Defend
The re-occurring discussion about gun control was always a fun one.
10. You Learn How To Comfortably Say One to Three Everyday Phrases, Believe You Have Assimilated
You mention random, fun phrases or curse words in the language of your study abroad destination to people at home, and then add "oh—that means ass in Dutch, HA!" No one cares. You keep doing it anyway.
11. You Realize You Have NO Idea What's Going On At Home
12. All-Consuming Panic About Going Home
Caption: "I'm excited to go home, but right now all I can really think about is how very much I don't want to leave. This has been the best year of my life and of course I am immeasurably thankful for it, but right now all I can feel is very, very sad. I miss everything and everyone already. #2moredays"
OK, so I was a tad dramatic/didn't know how to make a good Instagram photo, but it's an awful feeling when you realize you have to go home. If you stay somewhere for a prolonged period of time like I did, the feeling of homesickness has long ago gone away, and instead you're enjoying your new life and new friends. And then you have to leave. You try to avoid it, but you really don't have any control over the matter. The worst.
13. Packing — It's Impossible
You don't know when it happened, but during your time abroad, you've somehow accumulated one or more additional suitcases worth of extra stuff. You have NO idea how you are going to get it back home, but all you can really think about is how much you don't want to leave.
14. The Saddest Plane Ride Of Your Life
Be honest, you cried a little (or a lot) too.
15. You. Are. Depressed.
Everyone expects you to be ecstatic to be home, but you're not. Of course, you're happy to see friends and family, but you feel a little/lot out of place. You begin to hate traffic and football and 24-hour convenience stores. You spend a lot of time brooding in a dark coffee shop, writing about your favorite abroad memories.
16. Your Friends Are SO Sick Of You Talking About Studying Abroad
"You know, in Europe people are actually like so much different than here because..." or "This one time when I was on a weekend trip to Budapest..." or "I wish you could know what it feels like to ride your bike everywhere." OK, so you're a little sad, and your friends are initially sympathetic... but not that sympathetic.
17. You Go Back And Visit ASAP
Or at least this is the conclusion I came to; I visited the Netherlands six months after I left. It helps.
Images: @oliviamuenter/Instagram, @oliviamuenter/Twitter