If there’s a moment in my life I enjoyed the most, was my semester studying abroad in New Jersey in 2015. For the first time, I was completely alone. With no friends or family who I can run to if I was sad or in trouble. But it was an experience full of learning and personal growth.
I met wonderful people and got the chance to explore around. Also, an amazing opportunity to improve my English. That was my number one reason why I decided to spend a whole semester in an American university. Fun fact: I was so tired the first weeks that I not only slept super early but also had to take naps everyday! I told that to an aunt and she told me it was probably because I was using my brain too much. That made me laugh because certainly, I was. I was translating every word people told me 24/7. It was exhausting.
1. If you are learning a new language, don’t be scared of making mistakes
I was sharing an apartment on campus with three girls. From Korea, Brazil, and England. So I didn’t have anyone to speak Spanish with me. It was speaking in English or becoming mute. So even though I didn’t know some words I tried my best to express what I wanted to say. It was really frustrating trying to explain a funny story and in the middle of the story, I would need to look some words in the dictionary because I didn’t know the word in English. It totally killed the funny part.
But the important thing is: go for it. Do the best you can! People will help to figure it out what you are trying to say. I tried many things to explain what I wanted to say. I would be like: you know… the thing that goes over there. And it’s black and yellow. What’s the name of that? Forget the embarrassment. At the end, you will laugh. It’s part of the studying abroad experience.
Are you scared people will laugh at you? Rude people are everywhere and you need to ignore them. Take any correction the best you can. They don’t get how hard can it be to learn a new language.
2. When meeting new people. Leave anxiety behind
We all have been there. Going to a place where you just know one person can be hard and awkward. But going to a place where you don’t know anyone can be a total nightmare, especially if you are shy. Before studying abroad, I was scared no one would like me and I would be alone all the time. But I told myself: Melissa, don’t think too much about it. Be yourself and talk. You won’t be the only one trying to make friends.
So don’t overthink it. Be yourself and enjoy the moment. The chances are, you will make great friends while studying abroad! And remember… not everyone has to like you. You just need to be nice.
3. Learning different cultures is an amazing thing
I didn’t only have the chance to immerse myself in the American culture. I also had the opportunity to learn about three others! Thanks to Holly, I got to try British food (she cooked for us many times!), we went with Ah Ra and other Koreans to Koreatown in NYC and try their food. And I danced Brazilian music with Mainah.
Four different cultures were living in an apartment. We were learning many things every day!
It’s important to have an open mind about what other people do. It might be weird for you. But for a whole country is totally normal.
4. Have patience with yourself
You are learning many things at the same time. You don’t have to do everything perfectly. It’s okay if you make mistakes or if do something wrong. I got upset with myself many times. Especially because I knew I could do better. One time I got a D in one exam. I was so sad! I called my mom crying; because it wasn’t only the first time I got a bad grade, but it was also my first exam there! I felt like a failure and since I stress so easily I started saying I would fail all my classes. At the end, I passed that class with a C!
So love yourself and be proud! You already made a difficult decision of studying abroad. You left your family and friends. You are allowed to do many mistakes.
5. Be proud of your accomplishes. Even when they are little
I was always nervous to go and buy things at the grocery store, or a restaurant. Scared they wouldn’t understand what I was saying (I still am sometimes). I even spelled wrong my name once because I couldn’t remember the vowels on my own name! The girl at the cash register look at me weird and she told me: okay, Malesse. You order will be ready in a few minutes. So embarrassing!
The next time I rehearse in my head while queueing. And when it was my turn. I did it the right way! I high five myself after that. So, people, every small victory needs to be celebrated.
On a side note: Some people can’t get my name right because of how I pronounce it. In English, it sounds like muh-lihs-uh. And I don’t say it like that.
6. Don’t study too hard. Studying abroad is more about experiences
I am responsible. And you should be too, by the way. I did all my homework and I went to my classes. But I didn’t study as much as I would have been if I was in Chile. I used my time for different activities. Like exploring and traveling.
The week after spring break I had all my midterms. And I didn’t study enough for them. Why would I if I was in Hawaii learning other things? Like what happened in the Atack on Pearl Harbour, for example. I passed all my exams, not because I studied a lot. But because I cared enough to pay attention in class.
What I mean is. Go, explore, and learn. But also, don’t fail in your classes.
7. Don’t be scared to be alone
I’m a people person. Even when I want to be alone, I need at least one person in the same place as me. Or a dog. That can work too. The point is, being alone while you are eating lunch, walking to your classes, or while you are exploring a new place doesn’t mean you will have a bad time. You don’t have to be with someone to enjoy a new experience.
Not everyone will want to go to the same place as you. And that’s okay. Just go and have a good time!
8. Being independent is important
Before going to New Jersey, I had my mom and dad to help me with everything. Also, they had the power to make me do whatever they wanted. Even deciding the places I should or not go. While studying abroad I was on my own, making decisions for myself, cooking just for me and deciding if I wanted to go or not parties.
I learned so many things! For example, being an adult sucks. Not always, but is certainly hard. And also, being your own person is really satisfying. When you grow up in a bubble like me, being independent meant a lot for my personal growth.
9. Stay calm when problems come
Whatever it is, it has a solution. Don’t panic. The best you can do is breath, think your options and do the best you can to solve it. Also, you are not alone. Your family might not be there to help like they would usually do. But you will have other people there to help you. Depending on what the problem is, you can always ask your friends there or your advisor at the University.
10. Say yes to every opportunity
Even if it’s something boring! The woman in charge of the international students asked me if I wanted to be in a university fair talking to students about my country and why they should go to Chile to study abroad. Not many knew where was Chile, or what happens there. And I was happy to help them with all their questions!
So even if it is a 10-minute thing. Do it! You don’t know how good that can be for you in the future.
11. Truth. It will be the experience of a lifetime
Guys, I still can’t get over my amazing experience at Montclair State. I made amazing friends, met the love of my life and I got to improve my English. If you ever have the opportunity to do it. Go ahead! You will love it.