The Stages of Study Abroad

Lydia Pugh
Lyon Summer Program, France
Majors: Psychology and Criminal Justice

Studying abroad was a huge experience for me. The only traveling that I had done prior to this was a week-long missions trip when I was in middle school. Yes, it was still traveling and awesome, but nothing to quite prepare me for a study abroad experience.

I’m someone who deals with a lot of emotions on a regular basis, so I wasn’t really keeping track of what I was feeling, I was just trying to make it through day by day, keeping up in my classes while simultaneously trying to see as much of France as possible and meet as many people as possible.

After coming back and taking some time to re-assimilate to American life, I started to think about everything I had lived through and experienced, all packed in a tiny month! What a roller coaster! So then I started writing about my experiences, and came up with the stages of studying abroad—for me, at least.

Stage 1: Culture shock

This stage is also mixed in with a lot of jetlag and exhaustion. You travel for what feels like days, and then BAM you meet your host family and you’re trying to not think about how dumb you sound trying to introduce yourself and be as polite as possible in a foreign language while simultaneously trying so hard to stay awake. Then it’s placement test time, as if you can take a test to really show how competent you are in language skills while you’re still jetlagged and just wanting to sleep. For me you can add in a big dose of social anxiety as well, which at one point was so high that I had to psych myself up for a half hour just to leave my room. But once you get a few nights in, you can get to sleep before 4am, your energy comes back, and you can get excited to get to know your host family and the culture surrounding you.

w 2

Stage 2: Adjustment

For me, the second week was the most difficult. It was like my brain just refused to think in French anymore. I would go between “oh my gosh, what if this impossible situation happens and I don’t know the vocabulary to get around it?” to “why can’t everyone just speak English? French is hurting my brain!” The most important part to this stage is to KEEP GOING. Your brain will eventually make the flip, and suddenly thinking in French won’t be so difficult anymore. The flip happens at different times for everyone, but for me it happened around the end of the second week. But during that week, I felt like giving up French entirely and getting the soonest plane home (good thing I was stuck there!).

Stage 3: Adventure!

Not saying that adventuring doesn’t happen in the other two stages, but it’s almost like after the flip happens, after you’re not so exhausted from jetlag anymore, and after you get the hang of all the homework and foreign-language-speaking, you become FEARLESS! At this point I wanted to travel every day. I ended up going out of town every weekend and it was the best decision I ever made. I saw some amazing cities and sights that will stay in my memory forever. I just kept thinking “I’m finally doing it, I’m finally here! I’m in FRANCE!” My friend Hayden would ask me “Where do you want to go?” And I would reply, “As long as we’re in France, I’m happy.” And I was. I was on the top of the world. And it’s at this point that you realize- you never want to go home.

go w 2

Stage 4: Nostalgia

The fourth and last week of my program was the fastest to go by. I missed home, but at the same time I never wanted to leave. I loved my host family, I loved the language, and I loved being in France! For the two weeks after the program, I was automatically translating every thought I had into French, and constantly realizing more things that were different in France, or things that I missed about living there. I tried to pack as much as I could into my bag, even leaving behind some clothes. I still find myself thinking of France often, and going back to look at my pictures, wishing I could be there again. I am so thankful that I took this leap and went on this adventure, and I can’t wait to go back to France someday and continue the adventure!

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