Studying abroad is a huge part of the College. While some can do it for the full length of their studies, most resort to Exchange Programs, which provide, for a shorter amount of time, somewhat the same experience. Now, while most know the advantages and privileges of studying abroad, it must be noted that there are also major difficulties in this process. Is it a major life and learning experience that will shape the course of your career and personal path? Yes. The great Renzo Piano points it out as important in his formation: “if you don’t travel, you don’t understand how lucky you are to […] live in the shoulders of giants, in the freedom that has been built for centuries”. Beautiful. But is it also a painful and extremely stress-inducing project which requires a lot of planning? Well, yes. And here are the five biggest untold difficulties with your dream experience abroad.
1. Choosing is harder than it seems
Okay, let’s start with what seems like a very first world problem. And it may be. But, when it comes to studying abroad, there are so many possibilities that it can be quite overwhelming, especially for young people who thrive to know the whole world. Besides trying to find a country which is appealing both for academic and personal reasons, you must also find a city within it, then a specific college, never forgetting to constantly check on programs and agreements that your own college provides (in the case for Exchange students) so that you don’t fall in love with a school which you simply can’t go to. Having everything in alignment is a hard task, and you must make all these choices over a year before you actually go there, so that you can finally start the whole bureaucratic process…which leads me to problems number two and three.
2. The paperwork
When we become adults, it’s normal to have to remake a few of our documents, which can lead to a few weeks of stress. When going abroad, not only do people have to take in all of these documents, they sometimes have to take even newer ones, not to mention what the College and government of the country you’re going to may ask. Information about yourself, your parents, your bank account and many other questions are going to be made, and if you don’t have it all ready, it can ruin the plans for a whole year. Lacking documents when trying to get a spot in a new College tells the administration you’re not ready, and that is one of the worst things that could happen in this process.
3. The bureaucracy
So, after reading point number two, a reasonable person might be asking him/herself where to find these necessities and information. Well, that’s where the fun begins. While it definitely varies according to the college and country of choice, it is common to see complaints about how hard it is to find information about what you need to do, and also about how slow can the whole process be. Patience is paramount because the bureaucratic process before you actually go on with your travel plans is set on creating a lot of anger issues. Not to even mention the complexity of information, the number of exceptions to every rule and the constant possibility of change every new semester.
4. Life is a constant chore
Once you actually arrive in your new country, a new life is set to start. A life of wonder, new friendships, experiences, studies… and also many chores. Sure, in many cultures it’s normal to live by yourself once you turn adult, but doing so abroad is so much harder. Having to survive in a new country with new people, different languages and culture make everything tougher. And whether in life in your new College dorms or not, never underestimate how long it takes to do your laundry or shop for food. Chores can take up almost all of your free time, at least until you settle down and get used to this new reality abroad.
5. So. Much. Money
Even though there are a few fortunate ones whose parents can help out with money to study abroad and can afford to pay for these travels, to the majority, being young is almost synonymous with being broke. Going abroad for extended periods of time can mean a huge expense, mainly if the country of choice’s currency is more valued than the country of origin’s. To solve that, working before or during the exchange is almost a must, but it can also mean emotional instability and stress, above all when mixing it with the other problems, such as trying to solve paperwork or do daily chores abroad. In order to stay sane, planning and researching are paramount, while small, achievable and constant goals are the best way forward in order to get that highly desired study trip.
André Caetano graduated Colégio de São Bento and now studies architecture and urbanism in PUC-Rio, Brazil. His main interest is the influence of space in our lives and choices, ranging from historical evidence of such to its new studies and projects, both in architecture and urbanism.