It’s just the beginning of another academic year when lakhs of Indian students would be excited to go abroad and start a new life. Many of them must have finalised their tickets and packing with an advanced Instagram post — “New Beginning, Feeling Excited!”
I don’t know where to start, but the look on their faces screams excitement and longing. It’s obvious that they are excited about their time in the UK, or any other country, but I have to tell them something.
Once in a lifetime? Maybe so, but it isn't easy (Photo: Loghborough University website)
“So, how was London?”
Every student who has studied abroad faces this question a million times. Trust me, I had dodged this question more than I have ever dared to think of an answer.
Honestly, there’s no good answer. There’s too much to say. You have to heartbreakingly water down your experiences and emotions into phrases like — “It was good/great/amazing/incredible/awesome.”
I want to tell that all these clichés to describe studying abroad are too easy and usually wrong.
"Life-changing! Broadened my horizons! Eye-opening! Cultural awareness! Unforgettable! Once in a lifetime!"
These phrases don’t really mean anything, they’re just boring, lazy fillers. They come handy when you don’t know what else to put in your essays and speeches.
I want to tell that studying abroad isn’t easy. If you could see how miserable the first week is, you probably wouldn’t want to study abroad anymore. You’d see yourself awake at 3am in a hostel room, failing to fall asleep, second-guessing and questioning your decision to spend the next few years in an unfamiliar foreign country.
If you could see how miserable the first week is, you probably wouldn’t want to study abroad anymore. (Photo: Reuters)
So, here are a few things you have to brace for.
Sleepless nights, missing India
There will be days when you want to give up, kill yourself or go home. There will be days when you’ll miss India so much that you’ll want to consume everything that reminds you of home.
You’ll skip a class, get Subway, watch old classics, and read The Times of India just to try and feel like you’re back at home.
There will be some nights when you’ll find yourself alone and lost and scared in the middle of the city with no way to get home and you’ll ask yourself what the hell you’re doing here.
You’ll want to just sit on the curb forever. But eventually, you’ll take a deep breath, stand up, and start walking home.
There will be days and nights when you get bored. When you won’t care that you’re in London or Paris or Rome, because the novelty has worn off. You just want to sleep in or stay in your apartment and don’t want to go to class or go out drinking with your friends. And this is okay.
You need these days and nights to take a deep breath and recharge. But don’t make these nights every night.
Life won’t change radically
There will be days and weeks abroad that are exactly like your days and weeks back home. You might have been expecting your life to change radically because you radically changed your surroundings, but a lot of the time it will feel as if you simply picked up your regular, normal, boring life — with all your problems and insecurities — and dragged it halfway across the world and picked up right where you left off. And this will frustrate you and might worry you because you were expecting your life to change.
Without them, your entire trip would have been meaningless. (Photo: Reuters)
But don’t worry, because I want to tell you that you get better. Culture shock will get bored with you and look for someone else to pick on. The novelty will welcome you back like an old friend and you’ll feel alive again. You’ll start missing home lesser. You’ll be excited to get up every day and explore.
You’ll still have those moments and nights where you feel alone and don’t want to see anyone or do anything.
Go out. Who knows you might meet Benedict Cumberbatch
But please let your friends drag you out of the house and make you socialise even when you don’t feel like it. Because this night will be the night you meet Benedict Cumberbatch walking down the street in central London. This will be the night you find something out about yourself that you never knew before. You’ll find yourself alone in the middle of Trafalgar Square at 4am, staring out at all the lights and you’ll think to yourself, “Man! I never want to forget this feeling”.
This will be the time when your dreams will reflect upon your feelings, and you will feel blessed to have an opportunity that many don’t.
Yes, once in a lifetime: You might just meet Benedict Cumberbatch walking down the street in central London (Photo: Reuters)
This will be the night you fall in love in Spain with that girl from Australia and she breaks your heart when she says, “I have to leave now. I’m travelling the world. Come find me.”
Ask a million students who have studied abroad for advice and you’ll get a million different answers.
There are a billion more answers on countless Internet forums and blog posts. There’s just so many adventures and experiences waiting for you. But I want to save the best advice for last. I want to tell you the most important part. This part you’ll hopefully remember.
Count memories, not souvenirs
I want to tell you that everything you experience and every country you get to visit and every souvenir you buy and every memory of your time abroad is not comparable to the wonderful people you’ll meet and amazing times you will spend together.
Hard times: There will be times when your friends annoy you. (Photo: Reuters)
No matter where you go in life, no matter what you do, it’s the people you love that matter the most. All the heartaches and culture shock and loneliness and regrets and second-guessing that you’re going to experience abroad (and you will, I promise) — none of that matters anymore. Because every minute I spent with my friends abroad, I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
There will be times when your friends annoy you, but you’ll probably annoy your friends more often. There will be times when you say things you probably shouldn’t have and times when you probably should say something but don’t. You’ll take your friends for granted more often than you care to admit and you’ll lie to yourself that you won’t miss them just to spare yourself some heartache. But deep down you know how wrong you are. You know that without them, your entire journey would have been meaningless.
You have to experience it yourself (Photo: Reuters)
I can guarantee that when your friends’ ADT Taxi arrive outside your apartment to take them to the airport, you’ll tear up and the minute you get home you’ll start a group message and 90 per cent of the conversations can be summed up like this: “I miss you all.”
I want to tell you everything, but you won’t believe me. You have to experience it yourself. I want you to go now. Don’t waste any time, just go abroad! All your questions will be answered! Just go!
One day you’ll understand that the journey is really worth more than the destination. All the memories and experiences and relationships and friendships infinitely outweigh all the resume, academic, and career benefits.
You’ll feel alive again: You will not miss home like before (Photo: SOAS Twitter)
One day you will be a boomerang kid straight out of a trend piece about the travails of young adults.
There are so many twists and turns and excitements and broken hearts and cuisines and 'what-if's and highs and lows and mistakes and bad decisions and great decisions and all-nighters and lost passports and hurt feelings and ‘I’m sorry’s and hellos and goodbyes and awkward moments and occasional hangovers and long train rides and missed opportunities and spontaneous trips and boring days and amazing days and surprises and tears and smiles and laughter (there’s so much laughter!) and annoying tourists and mended hearts and inside jokes and some regrets.
And I wouldn’t trade any of it for anything in this world. Except, maybe to do it all over again.
I can feel the tears starting to swell up and I know it’s time to go.
So, what would I tell the students all set to fly abroad?
I look back with my own excited, longing eyes and answer your question the only way I know: