Studying abroad is a huge step in your academic career and also one of the biggest steps you can take outside of your comfort zone. For many students who go abroad, it is the first time they've been so far from home, away from their safety net of friends, family, and general familiarity. Just the idea of being without these can be terrifying, but when you add on culture shock and a language barrier, you might be ready to turn back and stay where you feel safe. Or you might consider going abroad with a friend or two, maybe even as a group.
Before you decide to study abroad with your friends, here are five reasons you should consider doing your semester abroad solo.
Studying abroad with friends certainly has its benefits. You'll grow closer and strengthen your relationship as you encounter new challenges together. You're guaranteed to have someone to reminisce with when you finally return home. If you're shy and don't make friends easily, you'll have someone with you from the beginning.
But you know what else has its benefits? Studying abroad alone. If you're having a tough time choosing between what your campus offers (and your friends are doing) or a super cool study abroad program you found, follow your gut. Before you decide to study abroad with your friends, here are five reasons you should consider doing your semester abroad solo.
1. Work with your own schedule
It's easy for friends to say, "Let's study abroad together!" What if the other person doesn't follow through? Don't miss out on this opportunity because of someone else. Put your own priorities first: decide when studying abroad works with your schedule, and make it happen.
Once you're abroad, you'll continue to have the freedom to choose what you want to do and when to do it. Want to have a lazy day and stay in bed? Go right ahead (although we don't recommend doing this often). Feel like having a museums-only day? You got it! Traveling solo is very efficient because you don't have to wait for someone else or make compromises. You won't feel held back - or feel that you're holding others back - if you want to do something else.
2. Grow and self-discover
Being abroad is all about self-discovery, and when you go alone, you can really find out who you are without your friends.
Discover who you are as an individual and don't define yourself by anyone else. Push yourself to grow in different directions and try new activities you've always been interested in. Realize your strengths and weaknesses by encountering new challenges and situations alone. Gain the confidence to do even more things by yourself.
Discover how to be comfortable in your solitude and how to be alone without feeling lonely.
3. Expand your social circle
Making new friends is one of the best things about studying abroad! You'll meet people from not only all over the U.S., but from around the world. When you study abroad with someone you know, it's easy to stay in your comfort zone because you already have a partner in crime, a travel companion and someone to share life abroad with.
When you study abroad alone, you have no choice but to put yourself out there and forge new friendships. Don't forget to break out of the "study abroad bubble" and meet local people too. Especially for students wanting to practice or perfect a foreign language, not having the crutch of a friend from back home may give you the extra nudge to make friends with native speakers of other languages.
What's more, you'll come back home with a slew of new places to visit. With new friends from all around the USA (and the world), you're bound to plan your next joint travel venture before the first one even finishes. An expanded social network, especially internationally, will yield benefits for years to come. You may even score a few couches to crash on too!
4. Create the experience you want
It's common to feel pressured to choose certain classes, housing, excursions, student clubs, and events to go along with your friends. Your semester or year abroad is definitely NOT the time to settle for doing what someone else wants. Don't leave with any regrets because you didn't get to explore your interests, live in your preferred accommodation, or do something you were really excited about.
When you study abroad alone, you get to call all the shots and you'll be able to create the experience you want without feeling any guilt. Don't let FOMO reign - even if your group of girlfriends is planning on going to Madrid for a semester (and you secretly want to study in Granada), don't settle for the capital city. Start planning weekend trips instead!
5. Gain self-reliance
One of the biggest aspects of personal growth that you'll experience is self-reliance. The freedom and independence that traveling provides means you'll be responsible for your own well-being more than before, and studying abroad alone pushes you to rise to the challenge. There is nothing more empowering than seeing how far you've come on a journey and saying proudly, "I did it all by myself!"
Whether it's traveling alone for the first time, navigating public transportation, getting over your fears of speaking a foreign language, overcoming homesickness, or cooking your first meal ever, you'll learn that you are capable of dealing with difficult situations completely on your own - this is something that you'll carry with you beyond the study abroad experience.
Being abroad is all about self-discovery, and when you go alone, you can really find out who you are without your friends. Discover who you are as an individual and don't define yourself by anyone else.
Studying abroad is already taking a huge step outside the walls of your comfort zone - but when you go alone, you'll get to blow those walls wide open. If you're scared of being by yourself, don't be. Although you may start the journey alone, you won't be the only one in your study abroad program.
There are plenty of other students who will be in the same boat as you - these will become your new friends and fellow travelers. You'll also have the full support of your on-site staff. Don't worry about your friends back at home, either; they'll still be there when you return, eager to hear stories. Set sail solo - you won't regret it!
Need a program? We have a list of study abroad programs!
Photo Credits: IES Abroad.