Ten things no-one tells you about studying abroad

March 02, 2015
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All you hear from people who’ve been on exchange is how it’s “the best thing you’ll ever do”. Which it probably will be – in hindsight. What everyone fails to mention, however, is the rough as guts first fortnight, when you feel like you must be doing something wrong if you’re not having, like, the best time ever. Here are a few unromanticised study abroad hiccups you need to bunker down for.

The first week will be the most stressful of your life

Culture shock, jetlag and sketchy internet access will combine to bring you to the edge of a psychotic break. Also, student housing looks remarkably similar to prison when you first arrive, and has very little in the way of creature comforts. You’d be amazed at the anti-depressant effect a dish rack, toaster and kettle can have on your life when you eventually haul your arse to IKEA to buy some.

Your shit will be stolen

Your phone. Your wallet. Your passport. Your laptop. Say goodbye to one or more of those things right now, because I can guarantee you’re not getting back to Oz with all your junk accounted for.

You’ll spend money faster than you could burn it

Take a stack of cash, pour some petrol on it, then set it alight. This is a fairly accurate metaphor for how quickly your funds will disappear, except in this scenario, at least the flames will keep you warm.

Not everyone you meet will be your instant BFF

In the beginning, everyone is scrabbling to make friends; it’s kind of like a weird, aggressive game of friendship-Pokémon (gotta catch ’em all!). When the battle for bros dies down, you’ll look in your Pokédex only to find a swarm of Zubats you didn’t really want. Never fear though; a Charizard and Pikachu will likely emerge from the throng.

You will get fat. So, so fat

Between the excessive amounts of alcohol and exotic new food that you’ll scarf down when you’re drunk/hungover/homesick, your six-pack will turn into a fat pack quick smart. Embrace it. Coronary artery disease won’t hit you for at least two more decades.

Everything will test you. Everything

Sometimes you’ll think there’s a Truman Show level of plotting going on when it comes to unfortunate events (like your phone battery dying while you’re lost and late for class and stuck in a hailstorm). A shittonne of not-fun things are going to happen to you, but you’ll get better at handling them.

Your FOMO metre will always be set to “Catastrophic”

Back home you can justify missing a party (hell, some days you don’t even change out of your PJs), but during your first couple of weeks abroad you won’t want to miss anything. Snow storms, broken bones, getting mugged or (god forbid) shitloads of uni work won’t be enough to keep you from all the things.

You’ll get sick and it will suck

The FOMO metre is mostly to blame for this, because even when your body is failing, you’ll push it to the edge of death before you dare miss a social engagement. When the sickness comes (and it will) don’t worry too much. It comes for everyone in the end (i.e. you won’t be the only one missing out).

You actually have to do uni work

With all the months of excitement leading up to going abroad and then all the partying on arrival, it’s kinda easy to forget the core reason of why you’re living in another country: to study. Even if your grades are pass/fail, you’ll still have to put in some effort.

No-one knows what an Australian accent sounds like

I hate to shatter your visions of being an exotic dreamboat who slays babes with your accent, but the only people who’ll actually be able to tell you’re from Down Under are Kiwis. Pro tip: dial up the Steve Irwin factor if you want to be easily identifiable as an Aussie.

Krystal Sutherland

Krystal Sutherland is a Worcestershire sauce addict and pyjama pant enthusiast. She studies English and creative writing at UNSW. Krystal is currently undertaking an international student exchange program in Amsterdam and is Hijacked’s 2015 Foreign Correspondent.

Image: Moyan Brenn, Flickr Creative Commons license