Saying Goodbye to Your Comfort Zone: A Guide to Studying Abroad

Oreoluwa Aremo

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ISC Study Abroad Fair Fall 2011 Jirka Matousek (Flickr)
ISC Study Abroad Fair Fall 2011 Jirka Matousek (Flickr)

The idea of studying abroad can be exciting and amazing yet a challenging opportunity. Preparing yourself for the adventure that comes with studying abroad is easier than preparing yourself for the obstacles that come with it.

However, making the fear of the unknown is not recommended and also recommended. Not recommended because it might ruin the whole idea of studying abroad and leaving you comfortable. Recommended because this will prepare you for the future, make you understand that there will be obstacles that can’t be avoided but can be defeated.

Arriving Dublin, Ireland for my master’s degree program; I have come to the realization that they are stages to studying abroad. These stages have been divided into 5.

Stage one will be called leaving your comfort zone stage. This comes after choosing a country and a course of study. It is an overwhelming stage because you are thinking of all the possible things that could go wrong and so many questions are running through your mind.

Questions like: Will I enjoy the country? How is the weather like in the country I want to study? What are the appropriate outfits for each weather? What should I take along with me? What if I don’t graduate with good grades? What if I can’t cope with their lifestyle? And many more questions. This is the stage you need to keep calm and believe that you will be fine, eventually.

Decisions...Decisions...Decisions... AFS-USA Intercultural Programs (flickr)
Decisions…Decisions…Decisions… AFS-USA Intercultural Programs (Flickr)

Moving on to stage two, the crown stage. This is when you finally arrive the new, strange land and you are supposed to fall head over heels in love with it immediately. Everything around is beautiful, fascinating and your camera is always snapping every beautiful building or fascinating thing you see.

This stage is also overwhelming and may cause cultural shock, as you are exposed to a sudden foreign social and cultural environment and it is normal. Worry not because in time nothing will be new to you anymore.

"I take the coolest pictures" Jirka Matousek (flickr)
“I take the coolest pictures” Jirka Matousek (Flickr)

The third stage which is the missing your comfort zone stage. There is every possibility that you will be homesick, you might be longing for home and familiarity of places, food and faces. In fact, you might get sick due to the change of environment or the new weather. At this point, you find yourself talking on the phone for hours with your friends and family back home or wishing you never even left home in the first place. But, do not panic because this stage is totally normal.

Getting familiar with your new found home is the fourth stage. At this stage, you are fully comfortable with the situation you are in, understanding the new culture and you have found a sense of belonging. Nothing surprises you no more. This is stage is almost perfect as you feel invincible, fulfilled and the initial fears or obstacles are no more.

New family , who this? AFS-USA Intercultural Programs (flickr)
New family, who this? AFS-USA Intercultural Programs (Flickr)

The last but not the least stage is the returning to your comfort zone. This stage like the first stage will be overwhelming and thought provoking. You are finally done in the foreign land and planning on returning to your comfort zone. However, this stage varies, some may decide to stay behind while others will either go back to their homeland or move to another country for more adventures seeking.

The above stages are not necessarily accurate but can be used as a guide and not the actual process of adjusting to living abroad and returning home. Having to accept and possibly adapt to a new environment, weather, culture, language, lifestyle and legal system can be extremely difficult and highly challenging. In some cases, it takes weeks or months to fully adjust to the extreme change and this can be partially caused by the level of how open minded an individual is.

It is not debatable that the primary idea of studying abroad is obtaining a graduate degree. Everything else is secondary. It may be a stepping-stone to an international career, and for others, it may be a once in a lifetime experience.

For the actual study, you have to familiarize yourself with the educational system of the foreign land because it can’t be the same in your comfort zone. Try your best, talk to your classmates if you are confused in any way and do not be afraid to ask your lecturers questions. They are there to assist and make your study an easy one.

For the fun, you might be disappointed that once school work fully starts you will have little or time for it. But, balancing is key. All work and no play make Jake a dull boy, right? At some point relaxation will be needed and the books will have to rest which is completely normal. Hence, do not feel bad when you have the urge to have drinks with friends when you should be studying.

Off day? James Gochenouer (flickr)
Off day? James Gochenouer (Flickr)

Moving around the campus of Griffith College Dublin, some international students were asked the reason why they decided to study abroad and interesting answers were given.

Eera, an accounting student, carrying her books with her right hand and her bag with the left, smiled and said ‘I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and the standard of education here is better.’

Allen, who was in a hurry to the library but still offered an answered: ‘For the experience and I needed change.’

While Shin Chern Yew, an accounting student, gave a different answer to this question: “A school is my home country recommended Griffith College and there was a €1000 discount,” he said.

“I just decided one day to study abroad,” Shin Chern Yew added.

Studying abroad is not only rewarding, exciting but also difficult and challenging. However, it is only for a short time; make the most of it and make memories that will last forever.

Graduation! Yay toomooroo (Flickr)
Graduation! Yay toomooroo (Flickr)

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Oreoluwa Aremo

A Nigerian. Turtle who finds comfort in its shell kind-of-lady. boluaremo@gmail.com