Author: Natalie Wilhelm

Location:  Cergy-Pontoise, France

Hi all! Here we are, already at the end of the semester! Since I’ve made it to seventeen days before my flight home, I feel myself qualified to offer some free advice to anyone who is going abroad or just considering doing a semester à l’étrangère. So here are the four things I wish somebody had told me before I came abroad.

1. You are going to change (a lot)

I have changed so much since coming abroad. I’ve become more determined, more capable, and, strangely, more relaxed. I’ve learned to love life even more than ever before. I savor every minute with my friends, and adore making new ones. My plans for the future have also changed; the picture I have of my future now is different than it was five months ago. And that is okay. Allow yourself to grow while you’re abroad. Take the good with the bad and roll with the punches. You’ll come out the other side stronger and wiser than ever before.

2. It’s okay to miss home

You are going to miss your home, and Valpo, and everything that those places mean to you. Your chest is going to ache with the missing it sometimes. That doesn’t mean that you’re not making the best of your experience abroad. All that means is that you left something behind worth missing. You left people and places that you love, and that is a beautiful thing. Never, ever feel badly or embarrassed for being homesick.

3. It’s okay if you don’t want to move

You do not have to want to drop everything and move to your study country. It’s a common thing for people to say, “OMG, I can’t wait to move back to France/England/Spain and live there FOREVER.” It’s okay if you don’t feel that way. Before this semester, I thought I wanted to work abroad and never go back to the states. But since coming to France, my determination in that has shaken. I miss the U.S. I miss the miles of flat road through Indiana; the rolling hills and mountainside monuments of South Dakota; the ruggedly beautiful, self-assured streets of New Orleans. It’s natural to feel that way. So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t picture yourself living abroad forever.

4. You are not a failure

Dear reader, please take this one to heart. There will be days when you will feel utterly exhausted. You will be homesick, tired, and lonely. You’ll miss speaking your native language all the time. Everybody else will seem more well-adjusted than you are. You’ll feel like you’re falling out of love with your study country. And you’ll think, “I’m failing at this. I can’t do this. What was I thinking?” But you are doing it, every single day, even if a day involves nothing more than walking to the bakery or to the post office to mail a post card home. You are learning about yourself and the world. Your beliefs, experiences and faith are being challenged every day. The goal of studying abroad is not to become French/English/Spanish. The goal is to learn, and learning you are. Trust me, it’s going to add up. It’s going to work out. And when you get back home, you’ll have all these amazing stories rattling around in your brain (and people will want to hear them!). So hang in there. Don’t give up!

So there’s my advice that nobody asked for. Keep chugging along, Crusaders. I’ll see you soon.