I am now four months into my semester abroad in Cape Town, South Africa. Although my experience, like everyone else's, is completely unique—it is common to have some déjà vu. It turns out studying abroad has many similarities to freshman year of college. Let me explain.
1. You look forward to it for years.
Ever since I was a kid, college seemed like the cool part of the education system. I never really shined in high school, so I couldn't wait for the day where I could go off on my own, choose how I wanted to spend my days, what classes I wanted to take, and where my life would take me.
Freshman year was amazing, but one of the natural faults of the human mind is to constantly look forward to what is next. I, like most others, looked forward to studying abroad. For many, study abroad programs even contribute to the college decision process. Thankfully, my university makes studying abroad 100% accessible. The world was out there waiting to be explored, and I only had to wait two years to begin.
2. You anxiously wait to find out where you're going.
Did you think that waiting for college acceptance letters was the last time you would ever have your patience tested to the extreme? You are very wrong. For most universities, the study abroad application process feels like college apps all over again. Once you complete all those tedious essays and forms, you must sit, wait, and refresh your emails over and over again until you find out what program you have been accepted into.
To feed into this excitement, my university implemented a 'Global Reveal Day.' This was when we all opened an envelope at the same time, revealing where we would be studying abroad. If anything reminded me of opening my college acceptance letter, it was opening that red study abroad envelope. Once again, my future was right in front of me, moments away from being revealed.
3. It feels like a new beginning.
Freshman year of college is the year to start over. I was completely restricted in high school. I was stuck inside a suburban bubble that I had no place in. College was the first opportunity I had to leave, so I chose to get as far from that bubble as possible. I chose a school thousands of miles away from my hometown with a vibe that embraced free thinkers, quirkiness, and overall happiness.
But after two or three years, the university scene can get tiresome and the college routine boring. I still love my school but I got pretty bored of seeing the same people and doing the same things. Studying abroad allows us to break that routine by making us stepping way outside of our comfort zone. Once again, (but this time, WAY further away from home) we are around a whole new group of people, and given the opportunity to mold your identity and start over.
4. It's easy to make fast friends.
You will meet more people during Freshman and Study Abroad Orientation Week than the rest of your life. Everyone is in a new place and scrambling to feel some sort of comfort. Because of this, you introduce yourself to anyone you make eye contact with. Then when you see them at the bars, you hug them like you have known them for years. Congrats! You have made 100 new friends in a week.
Although it is easy to quickly become friends with students abroad, by no means does that mean they are insignificant. These are the friends that you will be traveling the world with. They'll see you at your worst (for me, this was a near death moment I had climbing up Table Mountain in South Africa), and at your best (happy dancing at the top of Table Mountain or pretty much any time I'm dancing because I am awesome at it).
Even though we are only with these fellow abroad students for a couple months, we share enough intense, exhausting, and glorious moments to make friends for life.
5. Alcohol is everywhere.
The High School drinking scene is a struggle. Whether you snuck booze out of your parents liquor cabinet or got an older sibling to purchase it for you, getting alcohol took some major effort. But when we get to college, all we have to do is go to a frat party and we are showered with free drinks. We feel luxurious... until we realize we're still nineteen and we're not legal.
Then you study abroad and all of a sudden, everything changes. In most countries, the drinking age is 18. So unless you're a child prodigy, odds are, you can get legally hammered when you study abroad. I can't even begin to verbalize the joy that I get every time I effortlessly order an infamous South African Savanna cider from a bar. It is like I'm a real adult! But beware: this means that you spend way too much money on alcohol.
6. You've never felt more independent.
Freshman year means escaping our parents and curfews. But after our first year ends, the excitement of independence goes away. You begin to realize the restrictions that a college institution can lay over you (money, major requirements, student loans, etc.) When you study abroad, you have an excuse to push those restrictions aside, spread your wings, and fly.
But I have got to be honest here, independence is not always a good thing. It's cool that in Cape Town, I can choose to study classes that are outside my major and climb mountains and go to the beach and drink more and eat a ton with the excuse that it's worth it, but international school systems do not hold your hand through the academic process. More independence can mean less safety, so hold tight to your belongings and try to keep up with the buddy system.
7. But you get a little homesick.
Although it is nice being away from our parents, a couple weeks into our Freshman year, we miss having them to tuck us in at night and pay for the occasional nice meals.
When we study abroad, we experience real culture shock. While Freshman year we are adjusting to a new home, during Study Abroad, you are adjusting to a new country. Although I adore my new country, it is easy to miss the fast-running internet (oh, how I miss Netflix), my favorite coffee shop, my dog, and the overall familiarity that is home.
8. The locals are super intimidating.
Freshman Orientation Week is great because we were basically the only grade on campus. We ruled the school. But then the older kids come and they are like giants with heads full of knowledge while we were are innocent little freshies. Eventually we felt more welcome and a part of the college community.
Unfortunately, it happens all over again when you study abroad. The local students seem so cool, stylish, and knowledgeable. Cape Town students in particular are some of the trendiest, most attractive, interesting, and knowledgeable people I had ever seen.
I feared that they would view me as a 'Stupid American,' invading their country with an annoying accent and Donald Trump... they love to ask about Donald Trump. Thankfully this changes once you step out of your comfort zone and become friends with them.
#SpoonTip: Participate in class, in clubs and in the university social scene. Prove to the local students that you aren't just there to drink and party by actually engaging with them.
9. All of the food is fantastic.
Freshman year comes along and we can't believe how much pizza, ice cream, french fries, and omelets are at our fingertips. We quickly make the most of our unlimited meal plan by piling food on our tray until it topples over.
The food in your country of choice is everything you have ever dreamed of and more. You can get your favorite food any day of the week at the highest quality for some of the lowest prices available. For me, it is curry and samosas. There is a curry shop on every street. It is heaven on earth.
10. But then you get tired of it real fast.
Quickly we realize that dining hall food is the same thing every week—it isn't very good, and we can't actually eat pizza, fries, omelets and ice cream every day unless we want to gain the Freshman Fifteen. Too bad we have got at least a year more of the same dining hall.
You never thought that you could get tired of your favorite food, but once you eat pizza, pad thai, or rice and beans every day, it is hard to think of it in the same light. Okay, who are we kidding? It is pretty easy to eat pizza every day. I am still not tired of curry yet, but ask me again in a couple weeks.
11. You spend WAY too much money.
Look back at #5 on this list. Then think about your bank account. Are you feeling sad? You should because our bank account will feel lonely and empty after Freshman Year and Study Abroad.
In both cases, there is a lot of pressure to have fun experiences. Whether that be going to bars, exploring a national park, eating at the best restaurant in town or taking a road trip, pretty much everything you do costs money. By the end of both experiences, we need to start looking for a job. We'll need it.
12. You feel like you've found a new home.
Once we get over the honeymoon phase and the culture shock of college and studying abroad, we settle into a peaceful state of acceptance. There are good days and there are bad days, but we have made friends that will last a life time, seen wonderful things, and learned more about ourselves than we could have ever imagined. That is what it feels like to be home.
13. It goes by faster than you think.
Freshman Year and Study Abroad are two of the best experiences of your life. You look forward to them for years, so make sure you take it in. The weeks fly by and then it's over and you have to start worrying about the real world.
Make sure you live in the moment and take advantage of the excitement of Freshman year and the journey of studying abroad, because the minute it is over, you will want to go back.