When you study abroad, it is inevitable that you will face challenges and sometimes be pushed out of your comfort zone. That’s one of the great things about studying abroad. These challenges are what allow you to grow and learn from the experience.
In my 5 weeks so far here in Sydney, Australia, I have faced many challenges thus far. Some were expected, others not so much. But all of these challenges were welcome. What better way to learn than by experience?
Making friends abroad: something I was confident I was sure I’d be able to do, but at the same time, something that, in the back of my head, I really wondered … “But what if?” What if I wasn’t able to make friends with anyone right off the bat? What if I had to spend my entire semester abroad alone, dealing with everything by myself? What if I am actually terrible at socializing? What if no one likes me?
Sure, I was able to make friends at UT Austin where joining a club is like joining a family, but what about in Australia, where many of the clubs don’t run soccer practice 3 times a week, with games on weekends? How would I make friends with people I’d hardly ever see? Short answer: You will. And you won’t “hardly ever see them,” either.
Making friends with people while abroad was actually one of the easiest and best parts of being a student abroad. You’re new to the city, you don’t know anyone, and guess what? So is everyone else! Trust me when I say that no matter what happens, you will always find other study-abroad students! And because we’re all in the same boat, they will always want to be your friend. Wouldn’t you?
Making friends while abroad is all about two things: attending events, and following through. If you hear about a social event and have nothing to do that afternoon, go to it. It doesn’t matter if it’s something you never thought you’d be interested in or if it doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing in the world. Attending those lame “apartment welcome” lunches is how you meet people!
The first friends I made here were ones I ran into by chance while walking into our orientation. By the end of the event, we had made plans for that evening and by the end of the week, it was like we’d known each other for months!
That brings me to the second key part of making friends: following through. Forming deeper friendships means that after you meet someone at that “Guac and Games Night” upstairs, you maybe send them a message asking them to hang out again. Or to join you and another friend on a sightseeing tour. Or even to study for a bit at the cool new building you found on campus. Reaching out to people you meet is the only way to continue those first connections you make. After that, making friends is a piece of cake!
Another thing: Please consider getting roommates. I came to Australia knowing no one and decided life would be easier if it came with some built-in friends. I signed up to move into an apartment with three other random girls, knowing nothing about them. They moved in a few days after I did, and we immediately hit it off.
My roommates were also study-abroad students from Germany, and they had come with others from their university. Living with roommates allowed me to form new and very close connections with new people that I didn’t need to meet outside of the home, and they introduced me to a second group of friends from a different culture than my own.
And guess what? They’re teaching me German now! I came all the way to Australia just to learn German. A bit ironic, but I love it nonetheless. Because of my roommates,, I have made an entire group of friends outside of my own university, and I can say, “Servos, Ich heiβe Peyton.”
My next major challenge I had to face while studying abroad in Australia was illness. Exactly one week after landing in Sydney, it happened. I got the dreaded sore throat and congestion that starts off every bout of sickness. It can’t be that bad, I thought, just a mild cold, probably just from my body getting acclimated to a new climate. I had better take a test just to be sure. And boy, was that test sure. And so was the second one.
Yep, I got COVID one week into my arrival to Australia. Perfect timing. All my brand-new friends would be using the first week of classes to bond with each other, go sightseeing, explore the city for the first time, and I was stuck in my bedroom.
Oh, what’s that? The first week of classes? Yeah, missing that, too. You know the excitement of sitting in a class for the first time, wondering who you’ll meet? Who will be your new seat neighbors for the rest of the semester? Nope. Not for me. When I first got COVID, I was devastated. I was going to miss out on all these firsts and miss out on all the adventures my friends were going on.
But really, it wasn’t so bad. My classes here at the University of Sydney were all being offered online as well as in person, specifically to accommodate cases like mine, so I didn’t have to miss much, as far as classes went.
And remember those roommates of mine I mentioned? They were super sweet. They would have dinner with me from outside my room and play socially distanced games with me to keep me entertained. And all those adventures I missed? They just gave me an excuse to meet new friends who hadn’t done those activities yet and see those things with them.
One closed door leaves another open. Being in quarantine also gave me a chance to catch up with my friends and family back home, and to really settle into my living space. The government of New South Wales only requires you to quarantine for 7 days after you receive a positive COVID test, so my quarantine didn’t last too long either. Overall, getting COVID while abroad wasn’t as scary or stressful as it may seem, and ended up not being as bad as I had initially imagined. Now, COVID-free, I’m back out exploring as if nothing had ever happened.
Facing challenges will always be a part of life, and it’s one of the best parts! So far, while abroad, I have faced challenges from getting COVID to small things like figuring out how many grams a standard order of deli meat is. But trust me when I say those little challenges come easy.
Finding creative ways to face your problems is fun! Learning about a new culture and adapting to it is one of the main reasons I imagine most people go to study abroad. So if you’re worried about what challenges you may face in your study abroad, don’t be. They’re the best part!
This post was contributed by Peyton Sorensen, a Global Ambassador for Fall 2022. Peyton is a senior chemistry student studying abroad in Sydney, Australia.