Growing up, I have always had the desire to see the world and live in different countries. I’d watch movies or read books and I’d daydream that one day, that would be me. Perhaps part of the desire comes from the fact that I grew up in a little country like Cyprus. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cyprus. Cyprus is a beautiful place to live in. But after living for so long there, in a country where you know almost everyone and nothing ever changes, I was excited to open my wings and explore what the world has to offer.
I feel that what people see on social media do not always reflect the reality of people studying abroad. As we don’t have the time to share everything about our new city, we tend to be selective with our news, posts and images. You will see a beautiful park, a breathtaking view or our new international friends. Our stories will be highlighting the “fun” we have and the sun-filled days.
My journey so far
In the last four years, I was “fortunate” enough to travel to over 10 countries and live in 3. My little me, would have been thrilled and perhaps proud of what I have achieved so far. While I was away, I kept no journal. Then, I decided to create my blog, as a way to document my travels and share them with my family and friends. It was also a way to remind myself about all these incredible experiences and keep me motivated.
Spain 2016: Erasmus at Universitat Autonoma De Barcelona
My first experience living abroad and travelling alone. When I first started my university in Cyprus, I decided that there is no way I would miss the opportunity of going on a student exchange. I worked 3-4 part-time jobs to save up and studied hard enough to pass my courses. When I first arrived in Barcelona, I didn’t know anybody and I wasn’t confident in my ability to communicate. I had to get out of my comfort zone and make new friends, adjust to the spanish educational system and lifestyle and figure out everything. The entire experience gave me confidence and a sense that I can achieve all my goals.
[Visiting Barcelona soon? Here’s my ultimate Barcelona bucket list.]
Portugal 2017: My first marketing internship
Once the first part of my Erasmus was over, I have looked for every possible way to experience living abroad again. This time, I decided to take an internship in marketing at a tourism organization in Lisbon. The experience didn’t let me down, as I had gained lots of knowledge and motivated me to create this blog.
[Thinking to intern in Lisbon? Here are 10 reasons why you should consider it. ]
Denmark 2018: Pursuing my Masters abroad – now
It has never been my dream to live in Denmark, to be honest. But while I was exploring my options, studying in Denmark would be the most rational decision that could help my career as I really liked the Masters I had applied to and as many of you know already, education in Denmark is free. When I was applying last year, I specifically wanted to get only into this program. I had a 25% chance of being accepted and despite all the odds in the world, I made it in!
[Considering studying here? Here’s my guide to studying in Copenhagen. ]
The perks of studying abroad
Whoever you ask about their study abroad experience, you are more likely to get positive feedback from other peeps. We are young and we want to enrich our lives with as many experiences as possible. And what’s a better way than combining university with our love for travelling? Immersing ourselves in a completely different culture, getting out of our comfort zone and living life to the fullest.
There are many perks that come with studying abroad such as great career opportunities, personal development and the excitement of experiencing something new. However, as great as it all sounds, there is always a cost.
That’s why I decided to write a blog post focusing on the other side of the coin, the disadvantages of studying abroad. However, I came up with a few ideas that could make your experience of studying/living abroad smoother despite all these inevitable disadvantages you experience when studying abroad.
#1 Disadvantage of studying abroad: Feeling lost
The first advice I received from people who live in Copenhagen was once I find a place to stay, I should rent it immediately. Chances are, It would be really difficult to find anything else. Expect to be rejected, have skype interviews and go through some rounds before someone decides to have you as your flatmate, the housing market here is crazy!
There is just so much to take in once you move in a new city, and it’s natural to feel confused and frustrated, especially in the early days.
Solution: Meet people who are going through the same procedure, whether it’s the exchange students club or an expats group on facebook. In fact, I have figured most things out from such groups as people tend to have the same questions over time.
#2 Disadvantage of studying abroad: The language barrier
Denmark is the first country I have ever lived that everyone communicates perfectly in English. When I remember about my time spent in Barcelona and Lisbon, I remember the times I could barely communicate with locals. The times I was depending solely on google translate to communicate with my landlord, the repairmen or even ask for simple guidelines from locals. I remember the times when I tried to communicate with locals who refused to help and simply said ” Yo no hablo ingles”, not to mention the people who understood what I am saying or asking, pretended I am not even there and walked away as If I’m bothering them. Rejection, whether you’re local or not, it hurts. Even If you manage to communicate with people, it’s never really the same as speaking in your native language.
Solution: Take a language class and take this as an opportunity to learn something new.
I have found that apps like Duolingo have helped me a lot improve my spanish skills, along with the language classes I took while at university.
#3 Disadvantage of studying abroad: It can be EXPENSIVE
Unless you choose a country with a significantly lower cost of living, studying abroad could be expensive. In Cyprus, the rent for a studio cost me €220. Adding all bills up, I’d pay maximum €300. For a smaller studio in the campus of Barcelona, (suburbs) the price goes up to €550 per month. If you are in Copenhagen good luck finding a room cheaper than €600.
Not to mention any additional costs such as transportation and the initial costs to settle in (pillows, duvets, kitchen utensils etc.).
Solution: Finding a part-time job along with your studies or plan your budget ahead of time so you don’t end up with the noodle diet.
#4 Disadvantage of studying abroad: The feeling of homesickness is real
When I was living in a different town in Cyprus, I knew that seeing my family was only a drive away. If there was an emergency, I knew that I could be there any time I want and even the idea gave me some sort of peace in my mind. When you are living abroad, you are lucky If you get to visit your family once every few months. Otherwise, you are depending on the internet connection to have a Skype call (sometimes poor enough to not support a proper video call).
Silly things like a photograph or a friend’s birthday remind you how far you are from home and only make this feeling stronger. There are the times like having a bad day and walking alone in the streets of a crowded city, wishing that your best friend would be there to make you feel better or your mom could give you a hug. All these little things make homesickness feel worse.
Solution: Whilst it’s not always effective, having video calls can help you bridge the distance and can provide you with a great source of comfort.
#5 Disadvantage of studying abroad: Friends come and go
Another thing that I have been thinking lately is that it gets more and more difficult to sustain friendships once you move abroad. At first, It was really exciting to be surrounded by all these incredible people from every part of the world, become their friends and make plans to travel the world with them. As time goes by and you move to a new country, you will catch yourself trying hard to maintain these friendships by actively sending messages, arranging Skype calls but within a span of a couple of months the interaction becomes more and more infrequent. I don’t blame them. Their life gets busy and so does yours. But once you realize that 95% of these friendships have the same lifecycle, you can’t help it but keep a safe distance before investing in something new.
Solution: I am no longer into making many friends and keeping my expectations high. People you party with are not necessarily your friends and that it’s something it took me some time to distinguish. Instead, I tend to be more selective and try to invest my energy in people I’d like to keep in contact with and have some common interests.
#6 Disadvantage of studying abroad: The sense of not belonging here
No matter how much I love a country and how many friends I make and how hard I try to be part of the community, I never had the sense I am home or like I truly belong here. Perhaps some people actually develop a sense of belonging after living a lot of years in a place. Some never will. I fondly remember my mom saying (after living over 25 years in Cyprus and being in native language) that she never truly feels that she belongs there.
What’s even worse, even when she visits her home country, she no longer feels like she belongs there either. People changed, there are members of the family she never had the chance to meet and friendships are not the same. It’s not easy to maintain all the relationships with people living back to your home country. You can have some phone calls now and there, but is it the same seeing someone in person?
Solution: Even If it doesn’t always work, joining a local club with locals or volunteering could possibly make you feel part of the community.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I do not miss home. Some days a person, a place or a feeling, other days the entire city and country. Ciché as it sounds, home is where the heart is and sometimes people have to travel the world to truly comprehend the meaning of this phase.
Living and studying abroad is undoubtedly a life-changing experience and to that, I am grateful to have the privilege. However, I really wanted you to know that living and studying abroad is not always “peaches and cream”. It’s not always easy, but we somehow always make it work. There’s a reason we are here after all.