Why Studying Abroad Isn’t What I Thought It Would Be

In Blog, Studying Abroad by Kay56 Comments

photo (44)I’ve traveled a lot, as you all who read my site regularly may have guessed, and through my travels I’ve learned the value of having a variety of experiences, near and far, with different people from all over the world. So, when the opportunity arose for me to study abroad, my first instinct was “OF COURSE!!! I HAVE TO STUDY ABROAD!!!” Studying abroad, to me, was a traveler’s rite of passage, the student’s dream, and the chance of a lifetime. I wasn’t going to pass it up for anything.

So, despite being in a relationship back at school and having some amazing friends and family at home, I packed my bags and decided to travel 5,000 miles away to sunny Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where I’m currently living until January 2014.

Before I left, I reflected on what the experience would be like – I’d have a bunch of photos to show of my time in Brazil, pictures of me with dozens of new Brazilian friends and other exchange students, smiling and laughing on Rio’s beautiful beaches. I’d breeze through my classes, do some extracurricular activities, and come back missing Brazil like crazy, crying as I headed to the airport, decked out in green and yellow. I thought the experience would be like everyone says, the time of my life.

After having lived here for about 3 months now, I’ve realized that this experience is honestly worlds different than I’d initially expected. The people I’ve met aren’t the glowing, 24/7 BFFs that I expected, I have no pictures on the beach with new Brazilian friends. My classes are actually pretty hard, considering they’re in Portuguese, and I’ve been missing home like crazy for weeks now. No, the ideal snapshot of my experience here hasn’t panned out in the slightest, leaving me with a very different taste in my mouth.

After some homestay issues that forced me out of my first Brazilian home and into another, I learned that not all homestays are created equal, and many people here in Rio take on exchange students solely for the money. With people like my first host mom, the word “home stay” isn’t even anywhere near accurate. If anything, it’s more like renting a room in someone’s house. No, they don’t want to adopt you into their family. No, they don’t want you to come back and visit and expect to have a place to stay. A lot of them don’t even care to get to know the students living with them. Many of them just want money, and that’s it. Luckily, my host mom now isn’t this way at all, in fact she’s the exact opposite, always inviting me to hang out with her and spend time, but it’s extremely hit or miss with these kinds of things.ย Extremely.

The friends have certainly thrown me a curveball too, because admittedly I’m having an extremely hard time getting to know people on a deep level here. I continue to talk to my best friends from home on a normal, almost daily basis because some of my relationships with people here seem almost superficial or insignificant. A lot of the friendships here, I’ve noticed, are based on partying, going out, and getting wasted, which can be fun, but it’s not something I want to do all the time. People have come here to party, and I haven’t, so this inadvertently distances me from everyone I could potentially be close with.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m really loving my friends here and I’ve had some extremely fun experiences with them, but I can only say of a handful of people I’ve met that I canย trust them. I feel so far away from people. It’s like I’m in some kind of glass box – I can see and speak to others but I can’t reach out to them. I feel stuck, and all I can do is miss my home and the comforts of strong friendship.

Of course, I am so thankful of this wonderful experience. Not many people have the opportunity to study in one of the world’s coolest cities for six whole months, and I am extremely lucky to be able to say that I did. I have great days here too, full of awesome people, amazing views, and of course, beautiful beaches.

But with this deep seated loneliness abroad, I kind of feel stuck too. I feel as if my experience could be a lot more marvelous if it were shared in the company of people I love, trust, and care for. People who reciprocate the enthusiasm of spending time together and doing things that aren’t always about partying or getting drunk. To be completely honest, I’m homesick. I miss my family, my best friends, my cat, my house. I miss the feeling of acceptance and love that had always surrounded me before. I’ll never again take for granted the feeling of being in the company of everyone who care about you – because now that I’m 5,000 miles away, I feel truthfully more alone than ever before.

Although I’ve felt this way for some time, I think it’s getting better these days. The people I feel closest with here are actually pretty amazing and fun and I feel like they’ll be people whose presence in my life long outlasts the loneliness and homesickness I feel here in Rio. If there’s one thing I can come away with, it will hopefully be this handful of wonderful friends.ย And for that, I am extremely thankful.

Would I recommend studying abroad to every student? Of course I would. Studying abroad is obviously different than any experience a student will ever have, and it takes an incredible amount of strength to be able to last months and months without anyone you know there to hold your hand. But for me, my experience here has been a very mixed bag of emotions – on one hand, wanting to get to know the city, the culture, and the language; on the other, wanting to save money and missing home profusely. I wouldn’t go back and change my decision, but I do think that the potential of being alone and isolated throughout the duration of your time abroad is something that students should consider before making that choice. A study abroad advisor or a program rep will never tell you that maybe your fellow schoolmates (Brazilians from PUC) generally don’t really care to get to know exchange students, or that maybe your host family isn’t exactly in it for the love and affection.

My time in Brazil has certainly changed me, and I’ve definitely learned a lot. But, like I said, these experiences don’t come without tolls, and mine feel like some that could potentially persist until my family comes to join me in late November.


  1. It’s about the journey and not always the destination.

    1. It definitely takes a while to acclimate to another culture and way of life. Your situation is totally normal! Even the most seasoned travelers need a lot of time to get used to living and studying in a whole new country for an extended period of time. I do want to recommend one *excellent* study abroad program for those out there who want to really be immersed in another language and culture (this often really helps with feeling like an outsider, feeling “stuck” etc.) — SPI Study Abroad (http://www.spiabroad.com/). They are really, really awesome. Just in case anyone reading this is curious!

  2. Study abroad is always painted out to be amazing and obviously it is (It’s basicaly my job after all!) However, I think what you’re experiencing is a feeling shared by many but few actually let their feelings known. The way you have expressed your feeling is an extremely mature approach, keep at it and I’m sure you’ll have your breakthrough soon.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much for your support Naomi. I definitely agree that this is a feeling felt by many but expressed by few. But I guess that’s what blogs are for ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for your positive energy!

      1. Hello Kay,

        I agree with your whole entire blog. This is what I am afraid of happening if I were to go study abroad. I already have trouble making genuine friendships at home, so going to a different land hoping for something different can be a long shot as well. I don’t want to have to work so hard to pay for the trip and to have that kind of experience. I really applaud you for being honest and truthful about your experience because I can relate.

  3. “my relationships with people here seem almost superficial or insignificant”

    I noticed this too during study abroad. It seems like a lot of people only want to make friends just for while they’re abroad but don’t care to try and make any life long friends. It’s a shame that so many people go into study abroad with that mind set :\

    1. Author

      I agree :/ Although I’ll admit I have met some pretty amazing people too. I guess it’s all about who you invest your time in!

  4. Hi Kay,

    I truly appreciate your honest feelings about studying abroad.I’m proud of you that amidst these social challenges you continue to hold on to your hopes and I am sure you will meet more people who want to become your lifelong friends as well. Take care and always enjoy the journey ahead of you. ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Author

      Cez! Long time no see around The Kay Days. Thanks for coming back ๐Ÿ™‚ I will always hold on to my hopes and surround myself with good, inspiring people. That’s a promise. Thank you so much ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. I felt pretty similar about my experience studying in Valladolid, Spain. I purposely chose a small program that had homestays and required language classes with people my age in Spanish. Unfortunately, I was there for the summer during exam time, and Spanish university students lock themselves away in their rooms to cram. While I had a great homestay, I was forced to go out with only the other Americans on my program, and Valladolid (eight years ago) didn’t have many destination by high-speed rail or Ryanair like it does now.

    I did have a positive experience and learned a lot of Spanish, so I eventually decided to move to Spain after finishing my degree, where I’m married to a Spaniard and get to travel loads. I did my master’s here, too, so I feel like I finally got to live the experience I wanted to during the first few years, and now I’ve made it my home.

    No one needs to feel like they have to ‘meet’ certain expectations of studying abroad – it’s your experience and no one else’s! Do what feels right to you.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much Cat – maybe I’ll have to give living abroad long-term a try ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with your thoughts. I can definitely relate with what you’ve said in this post. My study abroad experience wasn’t what I hoped it to be either and I definitely felt the loneliness. But I gave the living abroad thing a try for a bunch longer period of time and I felt that was a much more positive experience. There were still ups and downs, but going away for longer helped me to set down further roots. There is no right experience and whatever does happen you’ll learn and grow from.

    1. Author

      Thanks for your insightful comment, Adelina. And yes, I think living abroad could definitely be a different experience. I’ll need to try it out sooner or later ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Hi,
    Have you tried asking someone out for doing things that you like? I am asking it because here, in Sรฃo Paulo, it is common for us to go out with someone who invites us. The fact that I am being invited by someone shows me that this person wants to talk, share time, have some fun….. and I usually accept the invitation no matter what we are gonna do or wherever we are gonna go. What I mean is, don’t wait for others to come to you. People may not know how flexible you are with it and are just respecting your room.
    In my case, I don’t like party a lot and as most all of my friends do, I always take the initiative to invite them and suggest the place. Of course, sometimes I go with them wherever they want too.
    Sorry if I am going too far, I am just trying to help you out and better understand why this is happening with you.
    Hope it can be helpfull.

    1. Author

      Thank you Renan for your comment! I have definitely asked people to do things and hang out, but usually we make plans and then they fall through. It’s okay though, because when I do spend time with friends, it’s a whole lot of fun!

      P.S. I’m headed to SP in 3 weeks – any suggestions?

      1. You are most welcome!
        Unfortunately I have to admit that we are very good at make plans and then let it fall through. Sorry about that.
        There are some places that are a must like Ibirapuera park, Mercado Municipal, Paulista Avenue, Ipiranga, Vila Madelena and so on.
        If you want me to be your guide, you can count with me cause I am currently looking for job, so have the avaiability to show you around. P.S. Of course, if I don’t start working till there.

  8. I think it’s also difficult because everyone is aware that your time is fleeting. It’s hard to invest in friendships when you know that you may not see them again for years at a time. I find this when I go home to England, so it may not be the being at home or away, but not being able to invest in each other.

    Miss you. If you ever want to talk skype me x

  9. Thank you for being so honest. I am also a 20 year old undergrad trying to decide whether or not to study abroad. I attend a school 10 minutes from home so even though I live on campus, I feel secure knowing that my family (who I am very close to) is not far away. I’m terrified of studying abroad (in Spain) because of the homesickness and loneliness that I know will occur. The longest I have been away from home is 3 weeks, and my program would be 4 months long. The reason I am considering studying abroad is because it is a “once in a lifetime opportunity” that I might regret if I don’t go. You’ve been traveling – and solo at that – for a few years know, and I’m so impressed with your courage to do so. Any advice?

  10. Hi, I was also an exchange student in high school for a year. The first three months in my host country (US by the way) I barely made any friends. I felt so homesick and wanted to go home so badly. Then the three-month mark passed, and I joined a sports club, where people were so welcoming and that’s where I found friends that I hung out with till the rest of year. I knew that our relationship might not last when I came home, but I was so grateful that our paths crossed, that they’d taught a lot of life lessons that I wouldn’t have experienced if I stayed in my home country. Besides, there’s internet now, so you can still talk to your host country friends even when you’re thousand miles apart! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Zia from Bits of Days

  11. When I went to teach in Korea, I had some of these similar feelings as well. I wasnยดt having an easy time AT ALL making Korean friends and the friends I had (while of course they were great) I didnยดt always feel comfortable around. Part of it was that lack of trust you talked about.

    Sometimes these experiences are still great, but we think they are lacking because we compare them to other peopleยดs times or our ideals.

    Hope you have a fabulous rest of your time there!

  12. This is a great insight, so thanks for that. I’m leaving to study overseas in January and I think I have the same expectations you did. I’m not a big partier either. I think if I come out with a handful of good friends, I’ll be happy.

  13. I’ll be interested to hear if your opinion changes by the end of your semester. The three-month mark tends to be a hard, lonely, and often depressing time– it was when I studied abroad, AND when I moved to Istanbul. Really, it’s often just culture shock. Both times for me, things improved… by the five or six month mark, I was in love with the cities and the experience. I hope your study abroad semester improves! Just stay positive and keep exploring.

  14. I didn’t study abroad, but I have been au pairing and away from home since last August and as much as it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself, it has not been easy in the slightest. Some days and months have been painfully hard and I’ve considered more than once about heading back home.

    Staying with a new family is probably one of the things that is the most important and also probably the least thought about when moving to a new country. Even if, like au pairs, you work with/for them. My first family, from August to November last year, were very cold and didn’t help with getting me adjusted to a new culture/language/making me feel comfortable. I cried almost every day for three months and was so relieved when we finally sat down and decided to go separate ways.

    Anywhere I have read has said that the first three months are the hardest, no matter how prepared you think you are or how wonderful everything is. There’s just so much to handle and get used to and every single person I’ve talked to who’s been away from home for an extended period of time has said that they’re first three-four months were the worst and after that, it just sort of got really good.

    I really hope that things do get so much better and you start finding people that you connect with and can really talk to. Have you tried meetup.com or is there a FB group for students studying abroad in Rio?

    Again, I hope things start to change and that, by the time you leave in January, you’ll have an entirely new experience!

  15. The people you’re there with can make or break the experience, it’s true. And it’s always a mixed bag, you never know. Maybe you’ll meet someone by the end, though, that you didn’t realize was so cool and there the whole time! You’ll just have to wait it out.

    Good luck!

  16. Wow, it was so refreshing to read this. Like you, I’d traveled a lot before I got the chance to study aboard, but when I did get the opportunity to study in Mexico, I jumped on it. I expected to have the time of my life and make new best friends, but while it was an incredible once in a life time experience, I really missed my close friends and didn’t make a lot there (except for party friends who wanted to go clubbing 3 times a week). While I’ll never regret the time I spent in Mexico, it also made me really appreciate my life at home.

  17. Kay, I couldn’t agree more with your article! I can totally relate. I’m studying in France right now and going through the same thing. I know how incredibly lucky I am to have a chance to study here, but I can’t help but feel the glass box surrounding me. While I have met some really great friends, our friendship is centered around going out and getting wasted. I’m not a party person, but I feel like if I don’t go out, then I won’t get to know anybody. No one in my program seems interested in any of the cultural aspects of study abroad unless there’s free alcohol. It’s frustrating but I’m trying to make the best of my last month here. Luckily, things are starting to improve and I’m enjoying life in France now. I hope you enjoy the rest of your time in Brazil! Hang in there ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. And also, people who are saying that after the three or four month mark, it gets better by the fifth or sixth month…but how I see it is by that the time that everything starts to get better, the trip is almost over, like for people who are only studying for a semester instead of an entire year. So I see it as a waste of money when it’s like that, of course you get to experience living in a different country, and experience a new culture, but if it’s not going to be fun, whats the point of it? Like the one of the comments down there it’s the journey not the destination that counts..

  19. I just came across this post…it describes EXACTLY how I am feeling right now. I am studying abroad in Norway at the moment and have never felt so alone. It is nice to see that I am not the only one who felt like this at some point during this adventure. I hope everything went well for you in the end!

  20. This post definitely describes how I am feeling as well. I appreciate that you are willing to share your thoughts like this. I feel the same way about the relationships being very superficial. I feel like that kind of mirrors the way people want relationships to be a lot of the time at colleges in the States as well. Many people are afraid to put themselves out there in order to have intimate relationships. I certainly was like that too, but this experience in Madrid (it’s been 5 months) has allowed me to accept myself to put myself out there. It’s easy to have friends to drink and party with, but it takes more courage to ask someone out to lunch. For a quiet person like me, who prides himself on emotional and intellectual depth and enjoys intimate conversation, settings like that are the only way to connect. The experience is valuable in that it strips away a lot of the things that make life easy and forces you to adapt. In adapting you find yourself and strength that you never thought you had. I tried hard with many relationships here before realizing that the other person just wanted another type of person in their life. I respect that. I respect what the other person wants and most of all, I respect myself enough to know that it isn’t my fault if the relationship doesn’t work out. But I have decided that I want some American friends. I walked in here and thought I’d be able to have all Spanish friends, but that isn’t the case. It’ll be easier to meet Spaniards through my American friends, and I can go out at night with my friends and meet Spaniards that way as well in addition to being able to practice my Spanish. I am happy for some of the trials and tribulations that I have had, as hitting rock bottom made me realize that the problem was in my head the entire time. Now, as the next semester approaches, I will use what I have learned in order to get the most out of my experience here.

  21. Thank you for you insightful thoughts. They really made me feel better about my study abroad experiences and feelings of homesickness.

  22. Brilliantly put. Having travelled solo for 3 years meeting some amazing people, when I went back home to do my degree I choose a university that enabled me to do a study abroad, here I am and I am homesick and feel I have not made any lifelong friends or even friends in general , studying abroad and travelling are two different things. I feel lonely and isolated here and miss the love of friends and family at home and my travelling friends. I personally wouldn’t recommend study abroad if you have been travelling for long periods of time . Travel after your degree the experience is much more fulfilling.

    1. I totally agreed what u said abt ‘studying abroad and travelling are two different things’ I traveled in the past two years as well and i traveled alone. I felt great everytime i explored a new city or country. But once settle down here in one single city with nobody i can talk with really feeling alone here.

  23. I could totally relate to what u said, and its even harder for Asian to get into a group of people who come from Europe/America. I feel like people here like to party so much as well, as im not the party type its reli hard to make any friend here who can talk with and share things with. Luckily I hv met some reli nice people in my faculty, Im trying to get through this period of time and hope things will get better soon.

    1. I totally agree with that. Being an Asian guy among all europeans has been not a good experience for me till now. I feel like an alien even after 6 months ๐Ÿ™ Especially things are so much ore difficult because they speak a different language.

  24. Hi,
    I just read your blog and I’m in Japan doing an exchange atm. I totally agree with all of what you said. I mean I recommend doing an exchange to others, but yeah its difficult making friends,and I don’t think its just the language barrier. Having the same problems, in my 5th month. I just have this feeling that a lot of people just see me as English Practise. But i do have to say that it varies from city to city. Like I found that people in Central Tokyo are totally different from people in the more southern parts of Japan (which I want to live in one day). I guess maybe its also a big city thing.

  25. Studying abroad definitely has its perks, but I just miss home so much. I miss my parents and I wish I could see them everyday when I get out of school. I miss home cooked meals and sitting at the dining table with my family. I have made new friends and all, but nothing is same as family because after all, they are the people who will always love you unconditionally. It’s been almost 5 years since I started school in a new school, but homesickness just never left me. ;(

  26. I thought I was the only one going through this. I miss home like crazy. My studying abroad experience is great but nothing like I imagined. It makes me appreciate being around those who actually care about me and things are so easy. I miss my parents like crazy and can not wait to get home. I am ready to go home. I am literally counting down the days.

  27. Hey,

    I discovered your blog while looking on the internet how to get rid of my homesickness ๐Ÿ™‚ What you have written here is totally how I feel! I am currently an exchange student in South Korea (I am belgian) and it has not been easy in the beginning, but I know this experience will still be the best of my life! Because I dare to go abroad and stood strong and at the end I am enjoying my stay here, although I know I will be happy when going back to Belgium ๐Ÿ™‚
    It is definitely not easy to go abroad, but it is an eye opener and makes you so much stronger when going back home!


  28. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I get not wanting to party and not feeling like things are matching up to expectations of life abroad. I think the toughness of the situation can instill some confidence and self-reliance, though.

    I’m in Switzerland for 3 more months, and don’t speak German :).

  29. I just read your post because frankly, I’m feeling pretty lonely myself studying abroad and it definitely isn’t what I thought it was going to be! I guess I’m having one of those frequent days where I just get sad and miss the comforts of home and my loved ones. I’m glad that I’m not alone in these feelings and that there are other people out there that have had similar experiences…although of course I wish no one had to feel this way when they had been dreaming of studying abroad for forever. But like someone said above, its about the journey, and I’m sure that we’ve both learned a lot about ourselves, our home, the world and life in general during our time abroad that not many people are lucky enough to learn.

  30. I stumbled upon your blog post because I was wondering if people outside my small program were having the same experience about studying abroad. I think I’m at the same point in the semester that you were when you wrote this a year ago, and it’s reassuring to hear someone express similar sentiments. I have always appreciated my family, but I have certainly discovered a whole new level of that appreciation in being so far away from them. I too would still make the same decision to go abroad, but right now, I can’t wait until it’s over. Thanks for your post ๐Ÿ™‚

  31. Totally agree! I’m a high school exchange students here in USA, and this is an experience that has been wonderful. But it’s also true that before coming here, I thought it was going to be really different – I though I was going to have a lot, a lot of friends, all of them super interested in me, my family was going to be perfect and I thought I would never want to leave. The truth is, I’ve learned a lot, and if I could go back in time, I would repeat this year. So after 7 months here, I have friends, although they are not close friends. I almost never hang out with them. My family is great, but sometimes I wish they were more active – a lot of times is really, REALLY boring. I’m not homesick though, in fact I don’t want to go back to Barcelona (my home city). So yeah, that’s it. If you guys are interested in my story, you can visit my blog! ๐Ÿ™‚

  32. Hi! Thank you for being so honest. I’m living the same situation but in Barcelona. This is my last month and I must say that it hasn’t been the time of my life. Yeah, I know that I’m so lucky for having this chance, but it wasn’t what I expected. Now I don’t feel so lonely with all these feelings.

  33. I’m an exchange student in the USA atm, and I’ve been here for 3 months in 3 days. And I just want to say thank you for posting this, this is exactly how I’ve been feeling and I have not been able to but my feelings into words, so thank you for doing that. I’m so happy to know I’m not the only one feeling like this, and it feels good to know that I’m not the problem( if that makes sense.) so thank you for posting this, I dontthink you understand how much it means to me.
    I’d love to talk to you, it would be awesome if you’d wanna email me, since it’s hard to talk to someone about feelings like this who haven’t experienced it.
    Lots of love!

  34. I cannot tell you how much this helped me. I am studying abroad in Germany now for the third time. But the first two times were for only a month and this is for 11 months. I have only been in Germany three days and I feel the strongest urge to pack everything up and leave. I have never felt such grief being separated from my boyfriend and cats as well as the comforts of home. I wonder if now that the experience is over for you how you feel?

  35. I am so, so happy I’ve stumbled across this, because this is exactly how I’m feeling right now. I was worried I was the only one feeling that way, since most of my fellow study abroad dorm mates seem to be “adjusting” just fine. Granted, I’m only 3 days into my study abroad in Vienna, Austria… but sill, there’s already a handful of people here who just kind of come from the party lifestyle universities, all the extraverted types who like to dive right into the sights and start traveling right away. Which is fine, don’t get me wrong, and the people here are nice… but it’s just not for me, and my roommate being that type of person makes things even more awkward and me even more self-conscious. I want to travel of course, but my main priority is school, and I want to treat this experience as if I’m a local student, not a tourist. I’m an introvert and a very shy person by nature, so it’s harder for me to open up to people I don’t really trust, but I’m certainly not antisocial. I just hate superficiality and fickleness find it a waste of my time.

    I definitely would love to explore the city more, of course! I just don’t want to do it alone, and it’s pretty hard finding people to do that with right now. Everyone else is always on the go, go, go! Always doing something exciting and fun and “going on adventures”, but I actually would love just to do some grocery shopping and settling down in a nice and warm cafe with a book and my laptop.

    Hopefully as the weeks pass, it’ll get easier…

    1. Author

      Hi Laura,

      I am glad to hear that you resonated with my post! As you probably know, it was written a few years ago, but as you can see from the comments, there are literally dozens of people in your same position. You’re not alone!

      As with many things, your situation will most likely improve with more time spent in Vienna. For me, I was able to find a group of friends that made me feel valued and respected, without feeling the need to go out and party every night of the week. And, looking back on my study abroad experience a few years down the road, I am really glad I did it. I learned so much that I wouldn’t have experienced otherwise.

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read my site, and good luck to you!

      xoxo, Kay

    2. This has described how I feel exactly! I am an older student (24 about to turn 25) and I am not really a party kind of person, but to be fair I never was that kind of person. It seems many of the Americans seem to be that way. I tried to speak to the other international students, but they seem to prefer to hang out with themselves. I have been here for six days and they have been the hardest six days. I also battle anxiety, so it hasn’t been easy at all. I am forcing friendships just so I can get by, but I just feel empty. I have seen a beautiful castle and cathedral and yet I feel like none of this was worth it. I want it to be all over already. I wanted to leave since I got here. I just wish someone here felt the same way.


      1. Author

        Hi Anjelica,

        I am so sorry you are feeling out of place, and that you want your experience to be over so soon. I totally understand how you feel, and I can imagine it must be especially difficult with anxiety. Just know that things will get better if you wait it out. I know it doesn’t seem that way! But I am confident that you will begin to find genuine friendships if you take the chance and talk to people in your classes and around you. I know for me, even in my loneliness and sadness, I eventually found lifelong friends and ended up learning a ton from the hard experiences. I know you can do it! And if you need a sounding board or just to talk with someone who understands, please feel free to email me.


  36. Hey Kay,

    My name’s Kelly and I’ve recently started studying abroad in Panama. Your experience resonates with me- I expected to have tons of Panamanian friends yet they all seem to have little interest in getting to know me. I also am interested in exploring more than just the clubs and bars in my city (unlike some of my other study abroad friends). I noticed that you posted this several years ago… looking back what is your overall opinion of your study abroad experience? Do you have any advice you wish you could go back and tell yourself?


    1. Author

      Hi Kelly,

      Thanks so much for your comment. I really enjoy hearing from readers on how their study abroad and travel experiences are going! I’m sorry to hear your experience isn’t going as expected, but don’t worry – it will get better. I’m actually planning on writing a post about looking back to studying abroad and my experience a few years down the road, but in short I’d say that it was definitely worth it, and I learned just as much from the difficulties as I did from the happy times. My advice to you is to go out of your comfort zone and take a chance at talking to the other Panamanian students. Worst case? They ignore you. Best case? They become lifelong friends. I think the trade off is definitely worth it ๐Ÿ™‚

      Good luck, Kelly!


  37. I really thank you for this honest post. It speaks of my exact sentiments. I’m an international student and yes, even after a year, I’m never getting used to it.

    1. Author

      Thank you so much for reading, Sherry. I totally understand what you must be feeling right now and hope that you are able to find a good support system wherever you are!

  38. I’m currently studying abroad in the UK and am having similar feelings. I’m not particularly homesick but I haven’t made any real friendships and I’m now 5 weeks in. I was hoping to make great friends with exchange students and travel Europe in our free time and although there are people who I enjoy spending time with, partying and going on small day trips with, I haven’t been able to connect with anyone and really consider them my friend. I know it’s still fairly early and maybe I’m too quick to judge but I don’t see myself becoming close to these people and am facing the very real possibility of doing the majority of my European travel alone. I know this is an amazing experience and opportunity but right now I just wish I had my family or friends from home with me to share it. I’ve also been disappointed with the local students. I live in residence with 7 others and they have made minimal attempts to get to know me. They ask basic questions and when I’m with more than one of them I feel like I’m just there listening to their conversations despite me trying to jump and make comments. I know I’ll look back in this experience fondly but right now I’m disappointed and am trying not to let it get me down.

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