On my first day of class as a study abroad student in Spain, my professor taught the class two invaluable lessons: how to properly order a shot of alcohol in Spanish and how to say, “I’m tipsy” using the local slang. Yep, he was a badass, and that memorable first day set the tone for what ended up being one of the most amazing summers of my life.
Fast forward to the present, and here I am four years later living in Seville, the city where I studied abroad and solidified my love of Spain. The city has changed. My life situation has changed. I have changed. Little by little I’m now realizing the many reasons why living in the city where you once studied abroad ruins everything.
P.S. With some minor adjustments, these things can also totally apply if you decide to move back to your college town. That one may even be worse.
Your group of friends isn’t handed to you on a silver platter
Nothing unites people more than going through a unique experience together, and that’s exactly what study abroad is. You’re in a foreign country. They’re in a foreign country. You know you should be trying to meet locals in order to immerse yourself in the culture and all that other good stuff, but you need at least one familiar person to accompany you, right?
BAM! Instant friendship. You’ll probably end up spending more time with each other than with the locals, but it’s ok. You tried.
Now, when you’re actually living in the city full time, you’re on your own. Making friends after college is hard enough, but now you have to do it in a foreign country and in your second language. That’s assuming you actually speak the local language. If not… Godspeed. Sure you can look for other expats to hang out with, but you’ll have to make a much more conscious effort to put yourself out there and make friends.
Nothing will ever beat your sangria-drinking, barely-studying, second-language-butchering partners in crime.
Your favorite bar no longer exists
This bar was your spot when you studied abroad. You were a regular. They knew your drink order, and you were on a first name basis with all of the employees including the owner. You practically ran the place.
You know you can get to that bar in your sleep because you’ve actually done it several times before. So when you return years later to live in your study abroad city, you let your instincts kick in and guide you to the symbol of your glory days. Finding out that your once favorite bar has shut down or been turned into another business is a stab to the heart. A little piece of your soul dies that day.
You’re too old for your favorite bar
I’m not sure which of these last two is worse. Finding out that your favorite bar has shut down is painful, but realizing no longer fit in at your favorite spot because you’re older than everyone else there, now that is personal and plays into those insecurities that pretty much everyone has about aging.
At this point you have two choices: you can choose to age gracefully, shake your head at the youngins’ and find an appropriate bar where you actually fit within the median age range OR you can just stay. You may be older but with age has come wisdom and with wisdom has come the ability to reasonably say, “To hell with what anyone thinks of me!”
And just like that you become the cool, confident older person at the bar who knows how to enjoy their one-euro vodka shots just like they did in their study abroad days.
You actually have to work
There are some incredibly admirable people who work part-time while studying abroad. God bless ‘em, but they are in the minority. The majority of study abroad students barely even study so forget about work. The few time I actually had class assignments I was always the one to say, “Do I have to ‘study’ abroad or can I just ‘be’ abroad?” Unfortunately the answer to that was always no.
Coming back to live in the city where you studied abroad means that if you ever posed that same question I used to ask, the answer is no longer a “no” but a “hell no.” Now you have phone bills, electricity bills, rent and all these other yucky adult things to pay for. Even if you paid your own way through college, there is still something different about working to make a living in your former study abroad city. This place was once sacred, but alas those days are long gone.
You have high expectations
This last point can essentially summarize this entire article. Although you mentally prepared yourself to face the fact that living full time in a city is completely different than studying in it, you still can’t help but have high expectations. Everywhere you go there are constant reminders of the good ol’ days, and truthfully, those amazing memories were half the reason why you decided to return in the first place. Those memories shaped (and possibly distorted) your view of this city.
If you’re lucky, your former study abroad city/new home will live up to your astronomically high expectations, but realistically speaking, it probably won’t.
So how do you deal with all this? Well, I don’t claim to have all the answers, but for the sake of not completely abandoning you on the struggle bus, here’s my advice. This is how I’m dealing.
Start by realizing that your life is different now, and there is nothing wrong with that. As a matter of fact, if your life at 20 and your life at 30 look about the same, then it’s probably time to reevaluate some things. Get those high expectations under control. Expecting your study abroad experience to be the same as living and working in a city is like comparing apples and oranges, and comparisons are fatal to your happiness, so stop doing it!
If we allow our new lives abroad to be seen and approached as entirely new experiences, then we can truly start to enjoy our time for exactly what it is instead of what it was or could be. In the end, I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that our study abroad city won’t disappoint.