The Five Stages of Studying Abroad

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Stage One: Denial

So you’re all set to study abroad but you’re not allowing yourself to feel the reality yet. You’re leaving in two days but you haven’t really packed anything, haven’t said goodbye to the friends you won’t get to see for a semester, and you’ve been living life just like you would on any regular day. Not everyone goes through the denial stage right before leaving; some are super gung ho and go out to buy as many travel books as humanly possible.  Sometimes you’re still in denial the moment you step off the plane. At some point though, you’ll be in complete disbelief that you’re leaving home and spending so many months in a completely different country with brand new  surroundings and culture. It’s overwhelming, and you just can’t believe that it’s finally happening.

No Idea

Stage Two: Euphoria

Everything is amazing. The food is amazing, the trees. The music is amazing, and the people are too This is the best time you’ve ever had in your life. You’re hungry for adventure, for every new experience at your hands. You’re independent, your family isn’t around, and you’re thrown into a brand new culture. You don’t ever want to return to the United States, here is where you belong. You want to go on every hike, visit every bar, go to every restaurant, and meet every new person you can, because this is a once in a lifetime experience and you’ll never get the chance to live so freely again. It’ll seem surreal that you’re here, and you’ll feel invincible, like nothing can touch you now that you’ve seen a little bit more of this giant world.

Personal Photo/ Diane-Jo Bart-Plange
Personal Photo/ Diane-Jo Bart-Plange

Stage Three: Panic

Something inevitably happens to you that brings you down to earth. Maybe someone stole your computer from your room when you left for a minute to go to the bathroom, maybe you purchased a 5 cedi souvenir for 50 because someone at the market decided to take advantage of your foreign status and cheat you, maybe the new friends you met and decided to go out partying with aren’t really the type of friends you should have been making, maybe you just realized you gained 10 pounds from all the food you’ve been stuffing your face with, maybe you got mugged in broad daylight, maybe you forgot that you actually have to study, that you go to school, right in the middle of your first midterm. No matter what it is, the panic sets in. You realize that you’re alone. Your parents aren’t here to pick up the pieces, and you’re truly independent while you’re here and have to take care of yourself. It can be terrifying, but everyone has that wake up call: the call that reminds you that you are not in fact invincible, that you are fallible and vulnerable in the new country that you’re in.

Panic Attack

Stage Four: Anger

You are past the halfway point of your study abroad adventure and you’re kicking yourself. There’s limited weekends left and you’re not ready to go. You haven’t done enough. There are so many restaurants and bars to visit, but all this time you’ve been going to the same one every Friday. There’s too many people you haven’t met, too many times you skipped a trip to sleep in a little, and now you feel like you haven’t seen enough of the country that you’re in, or many the countries that surround it. Too many foods you haven’t eaten, too many risks you haven’t taken, too many opportunities to take your experience to the fullest that you haven’t taken. You’re angry because you’re realizing that your time here is going to come to a close, and that close is sooner rather than later. You don’t want to leave the new friends you’ve made, some you might not ever get to see again, even though many of them feel like family. There just isn’t enough time in the day to do everything you want to do. No matter how much you’ve done with your time, there’s still so much more to do.

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Stage Five: Acceptance

It’s time to go. You have grown so much in such a short span of time. You know you have more growing to do but accept that the adventure has to end sometime. You’ll hug and kiss your friends goodbye, promise them you’ll Skype them the minute you get home, and that you’ll never forget them, and you’ll  visit them soon. Some of the promises are empty, and some you’ll keep, but you’ll never forget the experience you shared with these people, and they’re bonded to you in a way that no other group of people will ever be. You’ll look back fondly on all the inside jokes you shared that your friends back home won’t quite understand, and shed a tear when you think about the best memories you had during your trip. You’ll think about the semester-long adventure that you had every time you wear a certain pair of shoes or  article of clothing, or look at all the crazy pictures you took. For a while you’ll spend every moment of your waking hours wishing you could go back and spend a little more time in the country you grew to love as your own, but after a while you’ll feel the pang less. You’ll get used to the time difference again, get used to the food you forgot how to eat, and the bedroom that feels so foreign to you now. You’re gone, maybe you’ll be lucky enough to come back again, but for now, it’s back to reality, and you accept the fact begrudgingly. You’re home again, and a new chapter in your book of life is about to begin.

Personal Photo/ Diane-Jo Bart-Plange
Personal Photo/ Diane-Jo Bart-Plange

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