5 Lessons From My First Week Abroad


First Week Abroad Bess Pearson

Going abroad was an easy decision for me. Or, so it seemed. For most of the summer it didn’t seem real. I had been waiting so long to spend a semester in Europe that part of me thought I would just be waiting forever.

That Friday came and I stood at my gate, passport in my shaking hands, my dad on the other end of the phone. I cried into the phone begging him to come get me from the airport. “Do I have to go? I’m not ready, I have no idea what I was thinking.” My dad did his best to calm me down, but I felt so scared that nothing could console me at that point.

My feet felt heavy as I dragged them onto the plane. In that moment, it was as if everything caught up to me. Twenty years of pent-up anxiety peaked in that very moment. Everything spun, but before I knew it I had touched down in Sweden, ready to begin this new chapter of my life. I’ve been voraciously writing things down since I got here. Scraps of paper, notes on my desktop, in the margins of my syllabi. Thus, here are five things I learned my first week abroad.

1. It Won’t Feel Like Real Life

My entire first week felt like a weird dream. There was this large part of me that didn’t believe that being here was my reality and I kept having to remind myself that I wasn’t just on vacation for the week. I think this is pretty normal any time you undergo any sort of significant change. I remember feeling like this my freshman year of college, too! Just take it one day at a time and soon your temporary home won’t feel so temporary.

2. The FOMO is real

All my friends started to go back to school the first week I arrived. It was really hard to watch Snapchat stories, scroll through Instagram, and glance at Facebook without feeling like I was missing out. It’s easy to forget what an amazing experience you’ve been afforded when you focus on what everyone else is doing. It’s important to know when to step off social media and learn how to appreciate the moments you’re in.

3. Opening Up is Key

I can be a reserved person when it comes to meeting new people. I didn’t find most of my best friends until my sophomore year of college and I have trouble trusting people that I don’t know particularly well. Because I’m only abroad for a semester, I knew it was important to let my walls down more than usual in order to open myself up to the possibility of new friendships and experiences. Having others you can fall back is so important when you’re in a new environment and I’m grateful everyday for the friends I’ve made here thus far.

4. Don’t Overdo It 

My first week the excitement of being in a new country with such a vibrant night life pushed me to go out way more than I normally would, i.e. on a Monday night. While it’s awesome to go out on weekends (and weeknights on occasion), it’s not necessarily sustainable or healthy for your body or your wallet. Learn your limits and when to say “no”. Plus, going out loses its allure when it’s an everyday occurrence.

5. Alone is Okay

It’s easy to lean on the other people you’re abroad with 24/7. It’s important to learn how to be alone. How to take public transportation alone, how to eat alone, how to spend time with yourself. Being alone doesn’t have to mean you’re lonely. I’ve found that spending time by myself has allowed me to begin to really focus on the things about myself I want to change and improve. It’s scary to have to take the time to examine yourself and be able to see all of your flaws all out on the table. No, it’s actually terrifying. But I’m learning to take this semester as a period for growth, not perfection. And I’m excited to see life from the other side.

I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to explore the world in this unique and unforgettable way! Stay tuned for more updates from across the Atlantic.

featured photo via Bess’s Instagram, @besspearson

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