Though I’ve continually touted studying abroad as one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, I didn’t come out of it unscathed. One of my beliefs is to leave behind as little regrets as possible in life—to me, the feeling of regret is unlike any other and will stay with me longer than it should.
Many of the things on this list are regrets simply because I did not do them, which goes to show that you’ll regret the things you don’t do more so than the things that you have done. Whether at the time it was for financial reasons or because I just lacked the courage to do so, they all ended up here.
1. Not taking advantage of the adventure-travel options
Grenoble is such an active city, despite it being one of the smaller cities in France. Foregoing city-specific adventures like these is a big no-no. Yes, you could paraglide anywhere, but would it ever feel the same as running off the peak of one of the mountains surrounding your small, French, host city, with the backdrop of Alps in the distance? No. Take the advantage of what your host city offers and go ahead and do them! Is your host city close to a great ski destination? Go there not just once, but as often as you can because this is the closest you’ll ever come and the cheapest it will ever be. When I was in Grenoble, an entire day of skiing (transportation, ski rentals, ski passes) added up to less than 50€!
During my time there, I experienced all the seasons; I caught the end of summer, fall, winter, and left early spring. Through this entire cycle, there were multiple opportunities for me to participate in popular adventurous activities like paragliding, canyoning!, skydiving—all in the French alps! But the only thing I really experienced was skiing in the French Alps, which I am thankful for.
2. Being shy or a little too self-conscious
Being in a new city can definitely evoke those New Kid at School feelings you’ve tried so hard to banish from your memories. It’s hard to start over—even more so in a foreign language. But studying abroad is not the time for you to be shy. You’re with new people in a new people where your entire experience hinges on how you tackle it. You never know who you’ll meet within the next few months; you’ll never know what embarrassing moments can lead to; and you’ll never know anything.. unless you try. So just try.
Sure, when I first arrived, I like to think that I branched out a bit: I went to the new student orientation party hosted by CROUS the first weekend; I introduced myself to three people that would become pretty solid friends; and I reached out to this cute little Danish girl that I met at an Erasmus gathering one day. But past finding the first few people, I really didn’t make much of an attempt otherwise. All my other friendships came to me through passive means; another two girls I befriended through my French language class section—one I would end up traveling through Morocco with, the other one and I would have regular movie nights and wine.
This goes doubly after I moved into my new residence because of unfortunate situations. There was probably a solid week where I felt really lonely and left out of all the social happenings… but I made no effort in being the first to say hi or to as someone to introduce me to everyone there. Instead, I called in my army of already-established friends to keep me company so I didn’t look as much like a loser. In the end, I did form strong friendships with handful of people in the student residence but nowhere as near the amount or quality that I would have if I’d been more proactive or less shy. In fact, a girl who moved in a month after I’d done so became fast friends with almost everyone in the residence as well as people in her program. But then again, this was the girl who operated on 4 hours of sleep because she went night snowboarding the night before and still had enough energy left over to go out clubbing at 1AM.
3. Not chasing those festivals
At the university that my program was a part of, there was a group called Intègre, in charge of uniting international students for events, day trips, and longer trips to festivals. This was the same group that organized a trip to the Alps for a spa day, the weekend ski trip, and Fête des Lumières. After a certain point, I think I decided that I had enough friends and it would be cheaper to organize trips like these myself, causing me to miss out on Carnaval in Nice, France or Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany. I was there, in Europe, hours away from experiencing these international celebrations and I chose to opt out of them. Part of the reasons why was money—I was burning through it and still had my 6-week trip to go—and because none of my closer friends would be going.
Instead, I should’ve treated it as a once-in-a-lifetime chance to live it up—although it won’t be only one time if I have anything to say about it!—and an opportunity to make new friends. Screw the momentary awkwardness. Welcome those bizarre experiences of camping in an overbooked hostel and waking up in a sea of beer cans; welcome the experience of dancing your ass off in the middle of the streets dressed up as.. who knows what!
That girl I talked about earlier? She went to all of these things… a few weeks after her arrival in Grenoble. Despite not knowing anyone, she dove into and took control of her study abroad experience. At least I learned, somewhat, from my mistakes and chased down that St. Paddy’s Day experience, friends or no friends.
4. Not joining a student group
Joining a student group is another way to integrate yourself in the host country’s student lifestyle. There are many groups catered to international students where it would be easy finding people in similar situations; most of the time, especially in France, the local students already have established friend groups that are tough to break into and aren’t very open. International students, on the other hand, are definitely open for new friendships—that’s why they are studying abroad! Similar to college, many friends can be found in these groups.
I didn’t because at the time, everything was overwhelming! I had to figure out classes, adapt to being addressed only in French (which can get quite tiring, operating in another language), and make new friends not only in English but in French. But looking back, I should’ve put in more of an effort to integrate into the culture there. Yes, I made a lot of friends… but mostly international ones in English. The friends I made in French were only made because it was our only common language.
At least join Erasmus while you’re there. And not in the way where you just show up for their party events. Get involved in the planning, the smaller activities—these are where more intimate settings allow better connections.
5. Not using the host language more
You’re in a foreign country where they speak the exact same foreign language that you’ve been studying haphazardly for 5 years but have never become fluent. Use it, for heaven’s sake! Use any opportunity possible to speak it. And speak to anyone (and anything!) you can so that you gain more exposure with the language. Laugh with those that laugh when you speak brokenly.. and then improve. Seek out those whose only common language you share is the only you know least. Speak to your English-speaking friends in the foreign language—hold a foreign-language hour so you could practice with the people who are also learning!
My French improved so drastically during my time in France—so much so that when traveling to Spain, I kept trying to speak French instead of English because that was my go-to foreign language. But my go-to socializing language was English. To me, English was the language I excelled at. I was funny, witty, sarcastic in English; in French, I was only infantile—halting, nervous, and corny. However, I found that the more you work at it, the more you regain those parts of your speech. It was only frustrating because you’re an adult going through childhood again. So keep at it.
6. Not leaving the months after study abroad free
8 months before I set off for France, I had it all planned out: I was going to study abroad for 4 months, travel for 2, head back to my college town and build my finances back up for 2 months, and then walk at graduation. It was a perfect graduation trip for myself. The only problem is… your emotions aren’t at standstill while your trajectory plans out. While you may be feeling a certain way before leaving off to study abroad, it’s not likely you feel the same way after spending those months in your host country.
Having the obligation of walking at my graduation for friends and family was the only thing holding me back from spending the rest of the spring and summer there. I wanted an additional year at LEAST but was willing to settle for a few more months before starting my first job. The English teaching company my friend worked at had a job opening a month after I left; had I stayed, I would’ve been able to rebuild my finances that way, abroad, with all the people and experiences I loved.
Go with your emotional flow and ride it out. After finishing all your classes at university, go ahead and walk at your own graduation, regardless of whether it’s with your friends or not. Because if you wait until after an experience of studying abroad, you’ll no longer feel the high of accomplishment your peers do; you’ll rob yourself of the ability of staying in the present by wishing you were still abroad.
Linking up with Travel Tuesdays.
Was there anything you regret doing or not doing while abroad?