Picture-perfect? Studying abroad holds more challenges than simply getting the perfect Instagram picture

Picture-perfect? Studying abroad holds more challenges than simply getting the perfect Instagram picture

Photo Credits: KAITLYN PANG / AGGIE

Students evaluate beauty, hardship of studying in a different country

As many students are just now returning home from their Fall Quarters abroad, other students interested in potentially going abroad might find it useful to learn of potential difficulties and challenges they may experience if they choose to embark on an international adventure. Having the ability to spend an entire quarter to travel and learn in another country is a unique opportunity, and although this may seem like an ideal situation, many students face a variety of challenges while abroad, which often go unacknowledged. 

The fear of missing out — otherwise known as “FOMO” — is a phenomenon that seems to disproportionately affect college students. Whether it’s watching friends go out while stuck in the 24-hour room or having to work on Picnic Day, the feeling of missing out can take a toll on one’s mental health. This is Camille Moradian’s current experience. Moradian, a third-year environmental policy analysis and planning major, is currently abroad on the UC Education Abroad Program in Madrid, Spain. She said leaving Davis has caused her to feel like she is missing out on certain experiences.

“Although my experiences are wonderful and so different, being away from a loving

community that you spent two years building is not the easiest,” Moradian said. “Seeing my friends on social media, doing the activities that we are used to doing together or attending our favorite events makes the feeling of FOMO greater.”

She has also found it difficult to navigate between validating the struggles she has encountered throughout her experience while still remaining grateful for the opportunity.

“These feelings don’t seem justifiable when I am traveling the world,” Moradian said. “Because of that, it is difficult for many people to understand how someone could have any difficulties when being abroad, but my experience has proven that feeling this way is valid no matter where you are.” 

There are, however, ways around “missing out” during the school year and still achieving the abroad experience. Many students choose to participate in a summer abroad program.

Third-year global disease biology major Kathleen Groh opted for this choice, and participated in the “Microbiology in the Kingdom of Smiles” program in Bangkok, Thailand during the summer of 2019. Groh decided that a summer abroad would be a better option for her. 

“I didn’t want to be gone for a whole quarter missing my friends,” Groh said. “Summer was just the best choice for me because I didn’t miss out on anything or any classes I needed to take during the school year.”

Groh did, however, find it difficult to fully share her abroad experiences with her friends upon returning to Davis. 

“When people ask me about abroad, I don’t want to unload my entire experience onto them, because it’s hard to capture the experience in such a short amount of time,” Groh said. 

Social media plays a large role in generating FOMO. According to Moradian, people perceive abroad as being a perfect experience — based on curated social media posts. They may fail to take into account that real life does not stop once abroad begins. 

“Social media makes it seem that when you go abroad, every negative part of reality disappears and that there seems to be a lack of real problems that people face,” Moradian said. “However, people fail to realize that no matter where you go, your problems are carried with you. Whether it is a mental health problem, physical health problem, familial issue or any personal circumstance, studying abroad does not make these issues go away. For some, these issues are elevated because we are not in a comfortable place.”

Regardless of the discomfort which can arise from living in a place with a different culture and language, both Moradian and Groh found that by sharing a common experience with others on their respective programs, they were able to foster close relationships with people they would not have otherwise met. 

“I have found it easy to make other connections while being abroad, because most of the

participants are looking for the same relationships and comfort as others,” Moradian said. “Most participants travel abroad without a friend and therefore put themselves out there with a desire to feel comfortable and build meaningful relationships.”

Although students abroad may feel like they are missing out back home, FOMO works in both directions. According to Groh, students in Davis seeing peers abroad might become envious — especially students who may not be able to afford these programs. Groh believes, however, that not enough people are informed about help and financial aid if they want to participate.

“A lot of people think they wouldn’t be able to afford abroad, but I got a scholarship through UC Davis and an outside organization,” Groh said. “On top of that, all your regular financial aid works as well. I just want people to know that there is help for people who really want to go abroad.”

Similarly, FOMO is possible between a student and their “abroad” friends as well. Being in a foreign country presents individuals with a plethora of activities and adventures — which are sometimes hard to say no to, even if one may not want to participate. Fourth-year human development Audrey Nelson explained that trying to follow her own interests sometimes left her feeling lonely, especially when they didn’t align with others’ interests in her program. 

“Things that made me feel lonely were doing things that other people wanted to do and I didn’t, or choosing not to do them,” Nelson said. “Anything that isolates you makes you overthink everything.” 

She explained that going abroad was an overall positive experience — “I tried to take it all in and take everything as a growing opportunity,” Nelson said. 

Despite some of the hardships Moradian has faced while studying abroad, she feels that she has grown immensely from her time in Spain and recommends that anyone with access to a similar experience should consider it.

“I am so glad that I decided to go abroad,” Moradian said. “These past six months have been the most fruitful, growing, loving and meaningful of my life. I truly believe this experience made me stronger emotionally, mentally and physically and I am ready to take back the world when I arrive home. I believe that abroad is an experience for everyone, but experiencing hardship throughout is just a part of the process.”

Written by: Miki Wayne — features@theaggie.org