On studying abroad “alone”

Everyone has a different comfort zone. All shapes, sizes, depths, widths and boundaries are available. Some might argue you’re born with it (“oh your mother was the same way”) and some might say you’re responding to your environment (“after all it is a private school”). Whatever the reason – you’ve got one, and so do I.

Studying abroad can help you chip away at your comfort zone or blow the doors right off.

solo travel

courtesy of startbackpacking.com

Often times, we have students who admit things about themselves in a rush of words; an almost-embarrassed, half-anxious tumble of emotions. They’ve never flown before, they’re not sure how to get a passport, they’re ready to go but they’re scared. Scared makes sense! Studying abroad is a BIG decision, whether it’s for one week or one semester.

One of the things I’ve heard students say is: “I don’t want to go by myself.”

Know something? I went by myself. “By myself” in my case meant that I was the only student from my institution. But when I left on January 1, I was flying to the UK for an orientation with 83 other Americans. We all chose to study with the same provider, in the same city. EIGHTY FOUR OF US. On our first big group outing in Granada, we took a picture in the Alhambra – smiling so hard in our Northface fleece jackets and Levi jeans (so posh in Spain).

I spent the next six months of my life with these people. I got to know some very well, and some just by name. It’s been seven years since my group first saw Spain. Today, they are all across the globe, doing amazing things and those six months are something we will always have in common.

The reality of it is – we were never alone. We were surrounded by a group of fellow Americans, in a Spanish university, in a European country. I lived with a host family, who I just saw this past year for the first time since 2004. We were supported by an on-site staff from the organization who did everything from respond to emergencies to accompany students to the doctor’s office. I took classes taught in Spanish with students from all over the world. I traveled with people I had just met, and got to know them along the way. Even on my worst days (because you’ll have those) – I never felt like I was by myself.

Some programs use it as a marketing tool, like on the campus tours when your guide giggles and says “you’ll meet your bridesmaids here.” You might. You may also discover that “being alone” really isn’t so lonely.

Check out some additional resources on solo travel:

You will find that traveling solo is a huge phenomenon, and growing rapidly. People are leaving their cubicles to live it up (like Jeanne from NomadicChick), teaching in foreign countries (like Patricka in Korea), and seeing the world as they see fit (like Amanda from DangerousBusiness). They may be traveling by themselves, but they rarely find themselves alone.


9 thoughts on “On studying abroad “alone”

  1. Solo is definitely not a bad thing, you can learn so much about your limits and push yourself harder, all at once! People can be shaky on the concept of alone, but until you do some of that for a while, knowing yourself well is hard to do! Great article!


  2. First of all, thanks for the shoutout in your post! And secondly, I can’t agree with you enough! Solo travel — and especially solo study abroad travel — can be so empowering. Challenging, yes. Scary, sometimes. But you learn so much about yourself, and it gives you the opportunity to be whoever you want to be instead of the person everybody who’s known you for 5 years thinks you are. I studied abroad “solo” in New Zealand my senior year of college, and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I was a little nervous at first, but I ended up making great friends and having the time of my life.


  3. This is great, and so true. Traveling solo does take a bit to get used to, but it’s a wonderful feeling at the same time. And the truth of it is, you make friends (or at least acquaintances) almost everywhere you go. cheers!


  4. I wholeheartedly agree with this post. When I studied abroad I didn’t know a single soul who would be in the same city. Though, to be honest, I think more and more college students are choosing to study abroad in groups of friends. When I flew from Chicago to Madrid last January, there were probably at least 30 people on the flight who would be in my same program… but so many of them already knew each other. Actually, I’m pretty sure there was an entire sorority from the University of Wisconsin.

    For a while I felt like I was the only person who didn’t get the memo about studying abroad with all your best friends; it was a little difficult. But by the end of the semester, I saw how much I had grown. I talked to girls who came with their friends from home and they would say how great it was that I had actually befriended Spaniards–many of them never bothered to venture out of their pre-established social circles. There’s a lot to gain from going ‘on your own,’ even though you are never really alone, as you wisely pointed out.


    • thanks! and I agree – a lot of students head overseas in a prepackaged social circle and they tend to stick to their friends. They speak English, they hang out with Americans and are never fully immersed. Kudos to you for breaking out!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s