Decision to study abroad as exciting as it is difficult
“Do you plan on studying abroad?”
It’s a question that every advisor asks, and it’s a decision that all USC students must face. It seems like just yesterday I was walking into my first advising appointment as an eager freshman and answering that question with a firm yes. Now it’s two years later, and I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that I’m headed to London in a few days.
The answer to that big question was relatively simple for my freshman self. Before coming to USC, a lot of people had told me going abroad for a semester was the best part of their college experience. There is hardly ever another time in most people’s lives when they can pick up and temporarily move to another country for a relatively low cost and no responsibilities, aside from occasionally going to class. “Why not?” I thought. “It’s just a semester.”
Preparations for this journey have been underway for months. I’m sure anyone who has studied abroad will tell you that their inbox has been flooded with informational PowerPoint presentations from their program advisor about things such as what to pack, health insurance and adjusting to culture shock. There have been a few exciting moments, such as choosing classes and finding out the address for our new apartment — or flat, as they call it in the U.K. — but mostly everything pre-departure has just felt like a lot of work. Until very recently, this trip felt ages away, but now I’m ready to finish with these preparations and hop on that plane.
Yet, even though I can’t wait to explore some new places and have an adventure or two, I understand why many people opt to forego studying abroad. A lot can change in a semester, and most of us only get eight before going off to the “real world.” As the excitement of living in a new place grows closer to becoming a reality, so does the sadness of leaving behind the Trojan Family.
And that’s not all I’m leaving behind. Specifically, I’ve been panicking for the past few months at the prospect of not having my beloved iPhone available 24/7. I mean, my phone will technically be with me, but most students abroad choose to buy a less expensive phone when they arrive overseas and communicate with friends and family online or via free calling and texting apps.
Though a seemingly minor sacrifice in light of the exciting journey I’m about to embark upon, I never realized how much I rely on my cell phone until I thought about not being able to use it for five months. No more calling my parents whenever I want. No more texting. No more asking Siri questions I know she doesn’t know the answer to just for kicks. No more reaching into my pocket to grasp that familiar rectangle and know that at any moment I can talk to anyone or find out anything.
This dilemma reflects a larger concern in the days leading up to a semester abroad: staying connected to people at home. It might be a little dramatic to think that leaving for a semester will cause all your friends to forget you exist, but it is hard to avoid the inevitable fear of missing out, especially when you can’t shoot a text to them every once in a while to remind them that you’re still around.
Each semester, Facebook news feeds fill with photos of friends standing in front of stunning foreign landscapes and various landmarks, but I can imagine that these posts aren’t just to make you jealous of their trip while you toil away in a lecture hall. Remaining active on social media sites seems to be one of the only ways to remain visible among those you have left behind — pretty daunting coming from the plugged-in, interconnected society we live in.
I’ve talked to a lot of people going abroad who have told me that they can’t wait to go, and don’t get me wrong, I’m really excited, too. I’ve come to realize that being disconnected will probably be one of the best parts of studying abroad. Not being able to hear about all the stuff you’re missing forces you to focus on all the amazing things right in front of you — something that’s not so easy for college students.
When it comes down to it, we all find our own way to keep in touch while still making the most of a new experience. In my case, this column will keep me connected to USC from afar. No doubt there will be a lot to share in the coming months. But for now, it’s time to pack.
Chelsea Stone is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. She is currently studying abroad at City University London. Her column “Traveling Trojan” runs every other Friday.