What the Pamphlets Don’t Tell You: Post-Study Abroad

For the past four months, I lived in London while studying abroad.  Needless to say, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. If you’ve studied abroad you know what I mean when I say the experiences and memories are unimaginable and unforgettable. While going through this experience, you undergo a lot of change; more than they tell you in the study abroad office at your school.

Nothing can prepare you for what you are about to encounter, especially for someone like me, who had never been to Europe before studying in London. A lot of people fail to mention the effect that studying abroad has on you, internally. I mean it when I say I am a completely different person mentally, emotionally and spiritually. I don’t think my growth can be completely attributed to my experiences this year thus far, but it definitely “changes you”, like all those Instagram posts say.  If you are planning on studying abroad, here’s what I think you need to know.

Be Prepared For Change

Studying abroad as a whole takes almost as much from you as it gives. I will never forget the first time I took a weekend trip during my time in Europe. I went to Amsterdam with friends and had the time of my life but returned to London feeling drained. What I had just endured was traveling an extensive amount in 48 hour period. I somewhat expected to feel like the life was sucked out of me, but what I felt was so much more intense than that. I can recall this moment so vividly because I had never felt more mentally and emotionally drained. It was a strange mix of emotions because I wanted to be happy. Although I just visited a city I dreamed of traveling to since the age of eight, I felt like death was upon me.  

Natalie at the Colosseum

Dealing With Pressure

Over the last four months, the best way to describe my mental, emotional and spiritual state would be: conflicted. So many great things were happening around me and I was getting to know myself better than ever before. Still, it took a toll on my mental health since it was happening at a rate and intensity that I had never experienced. Something that I noticed while studying abroad was the pressure there was to always be “experiencing”.

I felt guilty for sleeping in after a stressful week at school because I could be out exploring London. There was this huge weight on my shoulders to always be having the time of my life but, I also was very aware that was impossible. As a natural home-body, it was really difficult to constantly be “on” and ready for anything that came my way. Of course, I had moments where I wanted to party and sight-see and give all my energy to being productive. However, I had moments where I felt complete and utter opposite. I had to remind myself that feeling that way was okay and actually very natural. If you are studying abroad, BE SELFISH! It is impossible to see every inch of a city in one semester so don’t beat yourself up about it.

Natalie getting a tattoo while studying abroad

Through this, I became more aware of my emotions and mental state. I learned what made me tired, what was worth my time and energy vs. what wasn’t, what I enjoyed doing, what I hated doing, and everything in between. I had an understanding of this before but, it became clearer that to cope with such an intense time of change I needed to look out for myself and put myself first. It was particularly hard as a people pleaser since I wanted to push myself to enjoy my time abroad. Remember to keep in mind when enough is enough for you.

Adjusting Back

Upon coming home, I realized that reverse culture shock is REAL. I find myself comparing a lot of aspects of my life at home to how my life was in London. I really can’t help but do it, especially because by the end of my experience, London really started to feel like home. While I was abroad, I traveled a decent amount and was being exposed to cultures and lifestyles that I didn’t even know existed. The social etiquette, my daily routine, my surroundings, everything was so different. It was challenging post-study abroad and not be living out my dreams and experiences that I had looked forward to for so long.  I came home and thought, now what?

Study Abroad Trip to Ireland (Rainbow)

My time abroad is viewed as a high, a time in my life where I was reaching new levels of potential than I ever had in the past. In my return home, I wanted to continue riding that high and keep the flow of great energy going. I didn’t want to feel the come-down of “post-study abroad” because I knew it would not be healthy to confront an extreme emotion following such a beautiful experience.

Looking Forward

I sat down and thought about what I learned about myself what I had experienced so that I could set goals for myself over the summer leading into my junior year of college. I decided to create a routine for myself consisting of healthy habits I wanted to create and goals I set out to achieve. These objectives function as a way to keep what I learned alive and stay positive but more importantly, happy.

I want to pursue what I love and spend my time wisely so that I feel fulfilled in my life. Following up study abroad or an intense time in your life, this is a healthy way to cope with change. If you are studying abroad, good luck and I wish you all the best. You are going to LOVE IT! If you aren’t studying abroad, I hope you get to travel as it’s become one of my favorite things to do. Sending love and happiness to all of you. I’ll leave you with some of my goals for this summer in case you are in need of some inspiration.

  • Take a video every single day
  • Get in the habit of waking up early
  • Get a job/internship
  • Read at least one book a month
  • Travel
  • Learn how to produce a beat
  • Work out
  • Win a tennis match
Natalie Ulloa

Filmmaker and Video Producer

Natalie is a twenty-year-old media studies and production major. Originally from NYC, she currently attends university in Philadelphia.  Her interests include music, film, fashion, and pop culture. When she is not working on a film or new video ideas, you can catch her listening to music or binge watching the latest show on Netflix.

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