What to Expect When Studying Abroad

The best decision I ever made was to study abroad.  In 2006, I spent a semester at Macquarie University in Sydney Australia.  I 100% recommend you study abroad.  The memories I formed there are the best to date.   If you’re like me, it’s scary to jump right into the unknown.  So I’ll make it a little clearer for you.  Here’s what to expect when studying abroad.

I’m skipping the pre study abroad prep.  It’s basically acquiring approval from your home college that credits will transfer over, paying your bills, applying for visas, registering for classes etc.  That part is a snooze fest.  I know you’re going abroad to study, but you’ll learn more outside of the classroom.


Culture Shock: Language and Food

Even if the destination you’re going to speaks English, you will still not fully understand them.  Every place has their own slang.  My first day abroad, an Australian asked me “why do Americans always wear thongs in the shower?”  I was very confused. To my knowledge, we do not wear underwear in the shower.  Apparently, they were talking about flip flops.  Their slang will likely become your new favorite sayings though.  To this day, I call all sunglasses sunnies.

[Here is a podcast I made on language and identity ]

The food is going to be different too.  They’re not going to sell your Pop Chips and Veggie straws.  They’ll have their own brand of some of your favorites though.  The supermarket will be a puzzle at first too.  It took me forever to locate pretzels and peanut butter.  Plus, their peanut butter sucked.  Who knew that was even possible?  Everyone’s parents kept mailing them peanut butter from home.  I did find new crackers and cookies which I loved, umm Tim Tams are amazing.  Also, they ate weird stuff.  Seriously there was spaghetti and meat pies for breakfast.  Vegemite was a staple.  And their desserts weren’t chocolate cake and cookies it was more like caramel bars, pudding, etc.

Let’s also talk about beverages.  You’ll likely party hard while abroad.  Everyone is from a different country, away from home, and looking for a good time.  I was shocked to see how expensive liquor was in Australia.  Prior to going there, that’s all I drank.  With a strict budget, I had to switch to wine.  Boxed wine was soooo cheap.

One more thing, a light beer does not mean it’s low in calories.  It means it’s low in alcoholic content.

The Living Situation

I stayed in a dorm that housed international students along with natives.  We all had our own room, which was sparse.  It consisted of a bed with a comforter, a sink, a portable heater, a chest of drawers, and a kettle.  I know, it’s not a lot but it saves you from having to buy all those big purchases while there.  Plus, having a sink in the room was clutch.  Communal bathrooms were located down the hall.  I definitely recommend staying in a dorm as opposed to living off campus because they’ll plan more activities and eating in the cafeteria is a great way to meet new people.

I could get mail delivered there from the US, but it took FOREVER.  Also they charged for internet the way a cell phone does, i.e. $10 for 1 GB.  I had to keep adding more to my account.  It was actually quite pricy, so I limited my activity on the web.


My trip would not have been the same without STA Travel.  They have extensive experience with study abroad programs and were affiliated with my school (they even had an office on campus).  They sell an international student identity card for a nominal fee which I utilized often for travel discounts.  Especially with hostels and flights. I also used it to identify myself on campus, to pick up books etc.

Hostels aren’t as nasty abroad as they are in the US.  They’re weird because you’re sleeping in a room with absolute strangers. However, you do get lockers.  Some of the ones we stayed at were just as lovely as a hotel.   (I probably would never stay in one now though) We also met so many people staying in hostels.  They’re filled with world travelers and college students.  If you’re looking to save some dough so you can see as many places as possible, hostels are the way to go.

[here is a look at my time abroad, it’s a recycled video I made for an application, obviously didn’t win lol]

Course Work

While I enjoyed a lot of travel, I worked my butt off in school, more so than I ever had.  For the class Literature and Film I  read 10 books in the semester and had 3 research papers along with watching a ton of movies.  It sounds like an easy class, but don’t be deceived.  Expect to do a lot of work.

I’d say school was extremely different in Australia.  In the US, I studied at Marist a small private college with class sizes of 25.  Macquarie’s classes met for a lecture once a week which consisted of hundreds of students.  No one took attendance, so people skipped these often.  Then once a week you meet with a TA for “regular” school.

They were much tougher graders.  Most of the work consisted of essays and research papers as opposed to projects.  They also used MLA citations, not APA so that was something new I had to learn.  I remember one of the Australians saying to me, in America you start with 100 and they deduct points for mistakes.  Abroad, you start with a zero and have to prove yourself worthy of more points.  I was a straight A student up until this point.  It did affect my GPA.

I also took an online class through my home school.  Therefore, I didn’t have a lot of physical classes to attend Australia, but certainly enough.

Home Sick

I’ve always been independent.  Even when at Marist, I rarely saw my parents or talked to them on the phone.  But the notion of being on the other side of the world does make you a little homesick.  Everyone I know experienced it at one point. I especially got homesick around the holidays.  I remember going to a Chinese restaurant and the beach for Thanksgiving since they didn’t celebrate it there.  With the time difference and cost of international calls, don’t expect to call home often.

Well, that covers the basics.  It is an experience to study abroad.  You meet so many awesome people.  I just had a visitor from Denmark who I studied abroad with 8 years ago!  Good luck!

One Response to What to Expect When Studying Abroad

  1. Pingback: The Problems with Changing Your Hair Color | Botch and Learn

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *