Hey guys! Today I’m sharing the second installment of the College Real Talk series. In the last post, I talked about my college experience, which you can find here.
Today’s post will be written in interview form, with Margaret of Fun Sized Cupcakes. She’s opening up all about her study abroad experience, which didn’t quite live up to expectations. My questions have an “A:” and her answers have an “M:”
A: Hi Margaret! First of all, just tell me a little bit about your study abroad program.
M: I spent the semester of Fall 2015 abroad in Geneva, Switzerland.
A: Did you know anyone in the program before you went? Did you know the language?
M: No, I didn’t know anyone in the program before I went and I barely knew the language. I learned French just to go on the program, so I’d say my French was elementary at best and I was definitely not comfortable or confident speaking it when I first got to Geneva. However, being immersed in the language over the course of the semester helped so much! Now I can understand almost everything.
A: So when we chatted earlier about your study abroad, you mentioned that it was not what you expected and that there was some negative aspects. What was the most disappointing part of your study abroad?
M: My classes and my internship. I absolutely loved my program directors, but in terms of my classes, I was disappointed. I know study abroad classes are meant to not be as difficult as classes back home, but I felt bored. 3 classes were through the program and while they were interesting, I wanted to know more. My fourth class was through the University of Geneva, and my options were limited. I could only take classes in English because I wasn’t fluent in French, so my only options were an economic history course (which my home university didn’t give credit for), or English literature. So I ended up taking English literature while abroad. Ironic, right?
In Europe, students declare their major right when they enter university and that’s pretty much what they study for the entire time. I had never taken an English literature course before in my life and felt so out of place. My internship is a whole other story… I was an economic/political consulting intern so for my job I got to go to meetings at the world’s top international organizations. While it was super cool and exciting at first, I met some “interesting” people throughout it that made me question why I wanted to pursue a career in international relations.
A: Wow, I never imagined that classes in a study abroad would be so easy! The lack of classes must have been very frustrating as well! Can you describe your hardest day in the program?
M: I’d say that most days were hard, besides the times I traveled. I felt limited because my situation was a bit different from that of other people in the program. Our program was very small – about 13 students total – 10 of them went to the same school, 2 went to another school close by, and then there was me. I think it was a bit hard at first for me to connect with everyone since they all had so much in common that they could bond over.
Unfortunately, my class schedule and internship didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, and I had way too much free time on my hands. I never thought that would be a bad thing, because normally I’m so busy at college. But all my friends (both in and out of the program) were either in school or working, so I was alone for all those times. Geneva is also VERY small and there is only so much you can do by yourself. It was very lonely and at times I felt trapped.
A: I talked a lot about loneliness in my last college real talk post. It’s really interesting that it can happen even when you’re studying abroad! On a more positive note, what was your best experience in the program?
M: Traveling and making new friends from around the world. I loved the place I stayed at because it was a residency for women ages 18-30, and I was able to make some great friends there. I also signed up for a foreign exchange and a language exchange buddy. They are both Swiss and two of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. They helped me feel more comfortable in a place that was so foreign to me. I wish I met them sooner in the semester!
And as for traveling… whenever I went to a new place, I never wanted to leave!! While I was abroad I caught the wanderlust bug. I didn’t get to travel as much as I hoped because I had a hard time finding travel buddies due to schedule conflicts. I wish I were brave enough then to travel on my own. Looking back, I definitely would have done that.
A: Share a little bit more about how your expectations for the program varied from the truth of the experience.
Ha!! It couldn’t be more different. So my home university is an all-women’s college, my study abroad program was all women as well, and so was my residence. I expected to make at least ONE guy friend! Just so I could have at least have somewhat of a “normal” college experience. Well, that didn’t happen. It wasn’t bad, but just wasn’t what I was expecting, since I always thought of study abroad as a chance to get away from college back home and experience something different. I also had an image in my mind of Geneva as a super cosmopolitan city and a center for international relations and economics, but the scene was pretty different from what I expected.
A: Would you study abroad again? If so, what would you change?
M: Oh, absolutely. I learned so much about myself and I wouldn’t trade my experience for the world. One thing I would change is deciding which program to go on. When torn between my head and my heart, and I listened to my head because Geneva was so perfect on paper for my major (international relations and economics). I should’ve listened to my heart, and I also should’ve blogged more!! I only blogged about my travels, but I wish I wrote a weekly blog just so I could look back on it and know how I felt at the time. I also created my blog’s Instagram after I came back (silly me), and I wish I made it before I went abroad so that I could force myself to go out and explore more on my own.
A: What is the biggest misconception you noticed with study abroad?
M: I could write an essay on this! I think we tend to glorify study abroad a little bit and make it seem like the perfect semester. Study abroad can be the best time of your life, but it’s also important to acknowledge that not everyone has a great time abroad and that those are very valid opinions and feelings.
A: What is the biggest piece of advice you would give someone going abroad for an entire semester?
M: Not everything will turn out the way you want it to, and that’s okay! Make the best of the situation and don’t be afraid to try new things and step outside of your comfort zone.
College Real Talk: Study Abroad
Thank you for reading this installment of college real talk! I hope that Margaret’s story can help some of you who might feel that you can’t talk about your experiences with study abroad. It isn’t always perfect, and that’s okay!