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Disappointing study abroad experience? How to quickly turn it around

Whether it’s for a few weeks or an entire semester, studying abroad has become an increasingly popular academic option for college students.

UE - Whether it’s for a few weeks or an entire semester, studying abroad has become an increasingly popular academic option for college students. And expectations are high: after all, who can look at a fun snapshot of a smiling friend in a foreign country (hashtagged #studyabroad, of course) without feeling just a teeny bit jealous?

Though studying abroad can seem like a great idea, once overseas, there is no guarantee things will go precisely the way you planned. For example, you may have set out thinking you’d be staying in a comfortable apartment for the duration of your program, but then you’re shown your living space and find it’s nowhere near as spacious as you thought it’d be. Or, you may travel to your host country to find that you absolutely cannot stomach their food, so you’re left hungry (and miserable) for your entire stay.

Yet, study abroad programs offer many benefits to those who can overcome the challenges of living and learning overseas. From picking up a foreign language, to making new friends, to experiencing a culture entirely different from your own, you’re likely to come out of a study abroad program at the very least a little more worldly than you were before.

When you arrive at your host country and find that things aren’t what you imagined, it can be hard to reap the benefits of your experience. But the good news is that a less-than-perfect study abroad experience can almost always be remedied.
Use the following tips to help yourself quickly turn a disappointing study abroad experience into a gratifying one:

REEVALUATE YOUR EXPECTATIONS

All study abroad experiences have their pros and cons, no matter where you go and what you do. In other words, when setting off for a semester overseas, it’s important to establish reasonable expectations so you don’t set yourself up for future disappointment.

On an overseas trip, it can be easy to get down on yourself for failing to pick up the common language easily or not making friends with your classmates quickly. If you’re abroad and start to feel dissatisfied with your experience, it’s probably time to reevaluate your expectations. Set new and more reasonable goals to work toward, taking into account the challenges of living and learning in a foreign country.

LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE

As mentioned above, there is good and there is bad to every study abroad experience. Although your time studying abroad may not be “perfect,” you’re likely to still enjoy at least some aspects of your experience.

If you find yourself feeling down while overseas, quickly boost your happiness by changing your frame of mind a bit. So, while you maybe don’t love the weather, you do love the food; or while perhaps you feel overwhelmed by schoolwork, you enjoy relaxing at the end of the day in the local café. Focusing on the positive aspects of your experience can help make the good vibes flow, making the not-so-great parts seem less bothersome.

ASK FOR HELP

Studying abroad can be unpredictable. From homesickness to sudden illness to natural disasters, even the most well-planned semester overseas can be disrupted by major problems. And, though you can’t control something unpredictable from happening, you can remedy a bad situation by asking for help.

If you’re really struggling with a problem like homesickness or depression, or simply feel like the program isn’t for you, ask your study abroad group’s lead professor for advice. He or she may suggest specific advice to help make your trip more comfortable or satisfying. You may be able to get a more comfortable housing arrangement or other types of support that will make completing your trip possible. You may find, after seeking help, that what you thought was turning out to be a lousy experience is actually enjoyable.

If you’re faced with a more immediate problem, such as a medical emergency, it may be necessary to return home. If something major like this happens, speak with both your group’s lead professor and home university as soon as possible so that your return trip can be arranged. Different universities have different study abroad return-trip policies, so be sure to understand the rules and regulations completely before departing.

USA today