What We Don’t See Behind The Instagram Pictures
This blog post was written by Celine Vu ’19…
At the start of my Babson career just a few years ago, I knew study abroad was not even a question. I was always envious of abroad students who posted pictures of themselves on Instagram with breathtaking views while “living their best lives”. However, I think many forget the challenges that students face before posting such a picture-perfect image of themselves online and essentially forget all the things that could go wrong while abroad. Nonetheless, these challenges are the biggest lessons you could take away from an international experience because they have really helped me grow as a person.
- You’re going to run into roadblocks no matter how much you prepare for a trip.
After traveling throughout Asia, I’ve come to learn that as much as I prepared for all of the trips I had planned, it never really went to plan. Whether it’s an unexpected downpour dampening your outdoorsy plans, an exhibit closing earlier than you thought, running out of money or missing the train, it’s imperative for you to learn how to adapt to the environment and learn how to make the most out of the situation.
Knowing that English is not widely spoken in many of the countries I wanted to visit, I had done my research and downloaded many translation apps to help me get around. I downloaded offline articles on my phone to reference when I didn’t have data in China. I even brushed up on my very weak acting abilities because it was frustrating on both sides if no one understood what each person was saying. Even with all of this preparation, things managed to go wrong and I had to learn how to adapt, stay calm and problem solve.
- You’re going to subconsciously spend more money than you’d expect in return for an amazing experience.
While I knew one of my big goals of study abroad was to travel as much as possible throughout Asia, I was firm on keeping track of how much I was spending. In fact, I kept a whole Excel sheet tracking (almost) every single transaction while abroad, whether it be in Hong Kong or a different country. What actually happened was that I spent way too much in the beginning because I was just getting used to my host country, got comfortable with the area and minimized my spending, then had a scary realization that there’s a month left and I should do everything I can to make my time last, thus increasing my spending exponentially.
While I unfortunately spent a lot more than expected, I don’t have any regrets about the decisions I made because I got the chance to explore as much of Asia as I could. “What could’ve been” would’ve been in the back of my mind. I believe it’s important to remember to make the most out of the experience and know that you might not have a chance to do these things ever again. I encourage you to spend the money and worry about it later because the memories and experiences are worth it.
- Traveling with people who have the same goals/motivations as you is really important. Compromise is key.
I believe this is important especially if you are traveling with people who you’ve never met before.
What do you want to get out of the trip – how much money are you willing to spend on housing? Are we trying to relax or are we trying to do more active activities? Are we trying to hit all of the touristy attractions or are we trying to go on a food tour for the weekend?
For my 2-week spring break trip to Thailand, my intention was to see and eat as much as possible. Knowing that I was traveling with two other students who I had never traveled with, I knew it was important to talk about the logistics before booking hostels and planning excursions. 4 days into the trip and noticing that everything went surprisingly well, that feeling of satisfaction started to dwindle once we hit Bangkok: the frustration started to kick in and I, as the leader, had to learn how to compromise in order to make everyone happy. One girl didn’t want to participate in the activities we had discussed and didn’t want to stay in a hostel we had booked way in advance because she didn’t speak up and voice her opinion. This was something I struggled with but I learned how to stay calm and weigh all options in order to make everyone somewhat happy. I realized that you can’t satisfy everybody and doing your own thing independently is perfectly fine as well.
- You’re going to have moments of feeling like an outsider and outcast in your host country.
Even though Babson helped me prepare for the culture shock I’d experience because of the campus being very global, I felt extremely lost my first month in Hong Kong.
At HKBU, I was the only exchange student in my Creative Industries class. As the local students were very quiet and reluctant to participate in class, the professor suggested that everyone speak in Cantonese in order to increase participation and discussion in class. I sat in the lecture in complete disbelief, as the professor didn’t realize I was the only student who could not comprehend Cantonese and all courses were supposed to be taught in English regardless. That being said, I asked a local student to translate every single question and answer. When I spoke up and answered a question in my strong American accent, all eyes were on me and I could hear whispers about me.
While study abroad is great and everyone highlights the glamorous parts of study abroad, I think it’s important to be cognizant of what could happen and the not-so-glamorous parts of abroad you can definitely learn from.
If you have any questions about my experience, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.