Studying abroad is not all fun and games

By Sarah Barrientos | Reporter

As a new school year begins and I run into friends, classmates and people I added on Snapchat but never really hung out with, one question seems to be on everyone’s mind, “So how was it?” The “it” in this scenario refers to the study abroad program I did in Hungary this past summer. Everyone asks in the same excited way, and it always prompts the same rapid, mulled response from me before I quickly change the subject.

I do this, not because I don’t have wonderful things to say about my time abroad, but because I have so much to say. It was all the things I expected it to be: awe-inspiring and wonderful. It was everything Instagram travel bloggers would gush about in preachy, long-winded posts about their “absolutely LIFE-CHANGING” trip as a tourist on some tropical beach. That was, and is, all true of my experience, but it would be a blatant lie if all I claimed to have felt was pure, unadulterated bliss. In fact, it was quite the opposite.

I had expected joy and carefreeness in being a 19-year-old with her own trendy European apartment. What I hadn’t expected was everything else I felt: lonely, undeserving and frustrated. There was a certain novelty of exploring Budapest for cute cafes and ordering the strangest sounding thing on the menu that slowly faded away into an intense solitude. I quite nearly burst into tears because I missed home during one trip to a cafe that promised a cute black pug and quality coffee. I found neither at the restaurant, but what I did find was a scene I could have easily found back in Waco. The barista and her friend stood at the counter of the shop, completely engrossed in their conversation. It was as if no one else in the entire world existed. It reminded me entirely too much of all the times I spent gossiping with my own friends back at my dorm while they worked their shifts at the front desk. Yet, as I looked at the two girls chattering away in rapid Hungarian, I was swiftly reminded of just how far away I was from everything I had ever known.

While the cafe girls were able to succeed in making my eyes water, what really made me blubber like a baby was a choir service I attended in Prague. It had taken place in one of the most beautiful churches I had seen. As the angelic voices of the choir filled the chapel, I could only imagine what my grandmother would have thought. I was immediately hit with a pang of guilt. What had I ever done to be deserving of this? My grandmother often speaks of how she would love to travel “one day,” and yet, here I was, barely an adult and seeing some of the most incredible sites the world had to offer. I felt as though I didn’t deserve to be in this church, let alone on this trip, seeing things and doing things she would have loved to do. I wanted to bring her with me, but instead, all I brought to her was a handmade apron and a hand painted cross I had picked up just outside of town.

It was a double-edged sword, living the life you always dreamed of, but doing it alone. But don’t let this scare you, I’d happily cut off my left foot to experience it all again. Be prepared to feel all sorts of emotions, good and bad, during your trip abroad. Trust me, the trip was fantastic, but as someone who had yearned to travel her whole life, it was a shock to realize that sometimes traveling the world can sometimes feel isolating.

So go, explore, live! Don’t let the fear of unwanted feelings stop you. Do all the things suggested to you by travel bloggers and tour guides, eat strange foods and dance to songs you’ll never understand. Experience a life away from the life you live, and most importantly, embrace everything you feel: the wanderlust, joy, gratitude, sadness, fear and exhilaration.