Studying abroad means seeing a world your eyes never got to before and trying exhilarating things you never knew even existed, but along with it are blizzards of struggles and unexpected situations. As an international student in the United States, though my overall experience is wonderful, there certainly have been times I just wanted to pack up and go right back home to familiar faces.
Here is a list of things I wish I had anticipated before, and hopefully you can prepare for them better!
1. Stereotypical expectations
I am an Asian girl. I am on a financial aid programme. I am pretty good at school and teachers like me. Those are to describe the real me, but ever since I came here, I have also heard expectations that seem to fit in with "people like me", like when a friend came to me and said: "You must be really good at maths, because every Vietnamese came from that crazy studying environment— 10 hours a day. You are probably smart, this problem can't be anything." Yes, I would like to think of myself as someone who is not shallow and intelligent enough to survive in life, but (un)fortunately I am not born for maths, even if I am, indeed, Asian.
Sometimes it get worse.
My advice for you, which is something I've been working on too, is that you should stand up for yourself immediately whenever you are labeled with these stereotypical expectations, because the more you make them seem normal, the more people are going to use them against you.
2. Let go of unhealthy relationships
Unhealthy relationships can be defined by lack of trust, constant arguments for no good reasons, or toxic relationships.
For whatever reason, you should be determined to let them go when you realize what they really are, because studying abroad only presents enough problems already, and these relationships are just going to make them worse.
When you are alone in a place not called "home", it is important to prioritize your mental health over all else. I was in an unhealthy relationship with a friend, and it took being ditched several times for me to realize that, when it came to her, the cons outweighed the pros. However, I finally admitted there were way more issues than there were great moments, and even though she made my life much more fun, there were a lot of times she intentionally brought rain and storm to my sunny days.
It was hard at first, but I was resolute to let go of her because, at the end of the day, it was just a waste of my time and I knew I deserved a better friend who treats me just as well as I do them.
3. You may only have yourself to rely on sometimes— become independent!
Since I came here, I have learnt how important my inner strength is, especially because there are toxic people around me, watching everything I say and twisting it in their stories with others.
There are times even my closest friends at school cannot make me feel secure enough, and all I need are my family and lifelong friends back home who would do anything to give me the support I need. But they cannot, no matter what, because they are not here. They cannot know everything or everyone and understand the situation enough, so I just have myself to fully rely on.
So I have learnt that, even though it feels lonely to trust only myself sometimes, I become strong, independent, and less vulnerable. I wish, though, that I would have known about this before to get myself prepared, then maybe I could have avoided all those moments feeling tired of everything and everyone.
For those who are going abroad, I hope you understand how important it is to be more independent and get rid of unnecessary toxic relationships.
4. Sometimes Being An Outsider With the ones At home
No matter how hard I try, I can't stay in touch as frequently as I used to with my friends at home, so sometimes I just look at their life on social media and realize I barely know anything about what is going on anymore.
I have come to accept that 'out of sight, out of mind' is not completely wrong despite my efforts, and what I do now is try to hold on to the most important strings mostly, not that you should go ruin every other relationship, but know that it is okay if you can't be as close to a person as before because it is just not your fault.
In conclusion, studying abroad is a great opportunity in a lot of ways, but everything is just different, and there are no universal guidebooks to dealing with it. Nevertheless, I hope you understand that you will, in one way or another, be astonished and upset by something, and it is completely okay. The experience and where it takes us are what count the most.