Can’t Help But Brag: Study Abroad Struggles

We live in a society where everyone asks, “What’s new?” or “How are you?” but no one seems to care about the response. We reply with a dull “not much” or “good, how are you?” And then wait for another meaningless answer. We ask these questions to be polite, but how often are people genuinely interested? Especially when your response is a lot more exciting than theirs would be. We are jealous, bitter people– it’s in our human nature. But we ask these questions because it’s common courtesy, and we don’t want to seem rude (even though we are).

The worst case comes when you study abroad because you have so much to share, but to be honest– no one back in the small town of Glenside, Pennsylvania wants to hear anything about your life-changing experiences because while you spent a weekend partying in Amsterdam, your friends went to another shitty house party that probably got busted before midnight. Your constant traveling and experiences in a foreign country will never fail to make everyone sitting back home hate their boring, routine lives. And you.

Some people who study abroad understand this, while others think that everyone is fascinated by their experiences. This doesn’t mean absolutely everyone isn’t interested. I’m sure your mom and dad actually care. But the stories you really want to share are probably the ones best kept from your parents. But how many times can your friends handle listening to you go on and on about your beautiful foreign roommates before they start ignoring your messages. You can’t be mad at them for this. They want to be interested in your life. But while they’re staring at the same four walls of their Oak Summit apartment, you’re out getting a taste of all different parts of the world, and they’re going to get tired of hearing about it.

Even if someone is honestly interested in your trip and wants to hear “all about it” you would never be able to describe it all. Too much has happened. I would never be able to explain in detail all the amazing opportunities I’ve had, the people I have met, and the adventures I’ve taken without wasting hours of someone else’s time. When someone back home asks me, “How’s Australia?” I couldn’t even begin to describe the highs and lows and craziness of everything that has been happening.  Maybe I could tell them about how I spent an entire weekend on North Stradbroke Island learning how to surf and sandboard and kayak, and didn’t have to pay for a single thing (thanks Arcadia!). Or I could mention how last weekend I went to the most beautiful beach in the world, got to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef, and found my potential Australian husband (just kidding, maybe). I could tell them about the first time I got to hold a koala and pet a kangaroo. Or explain the difference between a nice Australian accent and a bogan one. But no matter what I tell them, it just sounds like I’m bragging. Instead, maybe I could tell them how I felt really homesick so I stayed in bed all day watching Netflix and eating overpriced Nutella out of the jar. Or that even though I’m in Australia, I still have classes to go to and essays to write and all-nighters filled with red bull WITHOUT vodka.  But how lame doeDSCN0530s that make my entire semester seem?

We can partially blame social media. Most likely everyone has already seen all your pictures on Facebook and read all your tweets and hate you enough as it is. The constant upload of beautiful pictures from weekend excursions and simply everyday life in a foreign country is enough to drive anyone crazy with jealousy. Especially when it’s somewhere they wish they could be. Or somewhere they’ve already been that they wish they could go back to. Or when it is winter in PA, and your friends are dreading leaving their heated apartments, meanwhile I’m posting pictures of the beautiful, sunny beaches around Australia.

But what else are we supposed to do? We have to share our experiences with someone. And we shouldn’t have to feel guilty about it. I guess that’s why blogging has become so popular. But while it may seem like we are having a much better time than those of you at home (and not gonna lie, we probably are), we still get that FOMO too. Sometimes there is nothing I want more than to be hungover on my best friend’s couch eating mac n cheese and watching Food Network. No matter what great experiences I have abroad, there will still always be a nostalgia for people and places (and pizza) back home. So to all the friends who haven’t had the opportunity to travel and are stuck listening to our awesome stories, try to be patient with us. We’re not bragging on purpose. And I’m sure you have cool stories to share too. Even if it is just about another drunk night at Towers. And to anyone who has studied abroad and has had this problem, try not to brag TOO much to your friends. Keep it subtle. Start a blog. Or share your experiences with us at WanderLUST. And in the midst of all the bragging, don’t forget to remind your friends back home how much you still love and miss them.

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London Love

by Bri Wink

To Those Abroad In London:

First and foremost, do not take your time abroad for granted. Go ahead, indulge in a few days of wallowing in homesickness upon arrival, use jet lag as an excuse to curl up in your bed, skyping your friends and family and crying into your pillow that is nowhere near as comfortable and fluffy as the one at home. Take a few days to adjust, but then move on. Get out of those sweatpants, walk out that door and go out and do things. If you spend your whole time abroad stuck inside your room, hiding behind your laptop and complaining about your lack of live stream feed, then you shouldn’t have even studied abroad in the first place. You didn’t travel over 3,000 miles to stay up until five in the morning watching Pretty Little Liars. Go experience real things instead.london1

Take tourist days. Don’t be afraid to freak out crossing Abbey Road. Pose in front of those red telephone boxes with pride. Galavant around the Victoria & Albert Museum and take as many photos of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Big Ben as you want. Tourist days are the best days because you can let go of all that nonsense about blending in and just enjoy yourself. Bring your camera, bring a friend and leave the embarrassment of being an American behind. Just go out and knock things off that checklist of yours and don’t be ashamed of your enthusiasm or excitement or even your American-ness while you do. With that said, take a few non-touristy days, too. Travel off the beaten path and find a café or a bookstore or a pub that you can call entirely your own. Don’t pre-plan, either, Google searching “best unknown pubs in London” because that is cheating. Go out and find it on your own.

Visit the markets. Brick Lane is my favorite but go to all of them. Camden, Portobello Road, Borough Market, Old Spitalfields….They’re all unique and different and are such a great way to experience the vast and rich cultures that London is known for. Eat loads and buy loads and for just one day, indulge yourself in being a hipster. Just walk around and take in the charm of the city through the eyes of the vendors. You haven’t experienced the real London life until you’re chowing down on cheap empanadas while haggling down the price of a leather jacket.

Go out on the town, ride the Tube drunk, and get lost on the night busses with your crazy friends and the even crazier strangers you meet. Open your eyes on these 4am journeys and take in the view of the city at night without the hustle and bustle. Sit back, relax, and let the beauty of the lights and the stillness of a city that’s half asleep mesmerize you. Then get off at the wrong stop, stand around for another twenty minutes and do it all over again when the next bus pulls up. Also understand that not every night has to end in vague memories and hangovers. Sitting around, gorging on pizza and bingewatching American Netflix with your flatmates is just as satisfying as feeling the bass pump through your veins and seeing the neon lights flash behind your eyelids at a club. Some may even argue that it’s better.

Steal something. I’m not saying to break into a jewelry store or hold up a bank, but sneak out a pint glass from your favorite pub. Rob a fork from that restaurant you fell in love with. Take a few leaves from your favorite tree or flowers from a garden. Conveniently never return the notepad from that hostel you stayed in when you traveled and don’t hesitate to steal a few kisses from the boys and girls that tickled your fancy.

When you get sick (and you will get sick- Freshers Flu knows no discrimination) you will miss your mom and your dad and your own bed more than anything. You won’t have the slightest idea what cold medicine to take, how to work your insurance, or what to do with yourself other than wallow in the self-pity that comes with a runny nose. I think the days I was sick were the days I missed home the most, simply because all I wanted was my mommy, my teddy bear and an America’s Next Top Model marathon to cure me back to health. But eventually, I stopped moping around and started ingesting that Vitamin C, slurping down some of that soup and went to the pub to drink away the headache. In Britain, a pint can cure just about anything.

Meet people. Meet local people, to be exact. This is the most important part of the experience, the one that you’ll cherish the most once you return home. Befriend the Americans on your program but don’t forget to set out to make some of the best friends you’ll ever have. My entire semester became infinitely better because I spent my time playing it up with a bunch of British idiots I was lucky enough to call my friends. Knowing people, hanging out with people, and understanding people from the city that you’re in or from cities and areas around it makes the whole study abroad experience vastly different. These are the people who can show you the ins and outs; the ones who know the best place to grab a bite or the perfect spot to watch the fireworks on Guy Fawkes night. These are the people who will think you and your American-ness are fascinating, and together you’ll understand new things about yourselves. They’ll help you figure out the basics and provide vital information on how to live outside of your comfort zone, and in return you can help them see the city through a new set of eyes. Also, you get the benefit of hearing those precious accents daily and nothing can be better than that.

Fall in love: with the city, with a boy or a girl or maybe even both, and most importantly, with yourself. Cherish the way the air smells before it rains, and be captivated by the way he/she holds your hand when you’re drunk on Jack Daniel’s and their smile. But, more than anything, get on that plane ride home loving yourself. Love who you are in the city, love who you’ve become (because those pamphlets really don’t lie- studying abroad does change you) and the way you’ve grown to care more about people and the world around you and less about your own problems. Studying abroad is about the whole “once-in-a-lifetime” experience, sure. But really, you’ll notice the best memories come from those little moments that shape you.

And if you do fall in love with a boy or a girl that captivated you, don’t run from it. Let that feeling of a foreign romance wash over you. There really isn’t anything that can compare to a European love affair. It might not work out in the long run, of course, but that doesn’t mean you have to immediately give up out of fear of the future. Sometimes the city really is better when you have someone’s hand to hold.

But above all, understand that you’re going to have to leave. It’s inevitable; when you study abroad you have a clear expiration date and sooner rather than later, the day is going to come where you’re going to have to re-pack your entire life into a suitcase, hop on a plane, and go back to the place that you once considered home. Cry. Cry a lot. It doesn’t help, really, but it’s not something to be ashamed of, either. Freak out. Go crazy one last time. Sob the whole way through the packing process and the whole way to the airport. Hug your new friends so tight that it hurts to let go. Be weak. Listen to The Weakerthans “Left and Leaving” on repeat the entire 7 hour plane ride home. But then promise yourself that you’ll come back eventually. Get off that plane in your home airport rejuvenated, ready to return one day. Tell yourself as you fly back across the Atlantic that it’s going to happen. There’s so many things you haven’t done yet, so many sights and places and sunsets over the Thames that you haven’t seen. Do not doubt for one second that a return is possible. Because it will happen one day, as long as you believe that it will. Studying abroad is temporary, but the feelings that you leave with are for a lifetime.

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