As I’ve gotten older, my independence has become more of a priority to me. To achieve the life that I want for myself, I’ll have to be able to know what I need to be happy and get it on my own terms. And while I’ve been going away to school since I was fourteen, no life experience can really prepare you for something like studying abroad. Studying abroad is the first time I’ve really had to provide myself with what I need to succeed here; food, cleaning supplies, stationery, laundry, and everything in between has fallen on me to get done. If something goes south, it’s up to no one else but me to fix it. How have I been able to navigate such a complete shift in lifestyle? Honestly, I’ve just been doing what I do best; being a mama’s boy.
When I say “mama’s boy", I don’t mean it in the sense that I can’t walk across the street without checking with my mom first. In fact, my growing independence wouldn’t be possible without her. The common denominator between all of the experiences away from home is that my parents, as well as the rest of my very extended and very supportive family, have been essential to helping me adjust to becoming the adult I want to be. I’m writing this post so students (and the parents reading these blogs) have some tips to help make the process of living away from family as smooth as it can be for both parties.
Students, this should go without saying, but you should really find some time to call home. However, it’s more than just because your parents told you to. Studying abroad is not only a brand new and life-changing experience for you, but for your folks as well. It’s one thing for our parents to send us off to school in another state, but it’s entirely different to send us to another country. Call them not just to ease their worries, but also to teach them something new about where you are. Teach them some slang from your study country, or explain to them a concept you learned in class today. It doesn’t have to be an hour-long conference call either; sometimes a quick text is just as important as a long call. Trust me, the less worried your parents are about you, the more fun you will have abroad.
As for the parents, communication is a two-way street. I know for me, it’s just as important to know what’s happening at home as much as it for my parents to know what’s happening with me. Contrary to common belief, we as students worry about home too, even if we don’t always say it, so getting an unexpected call or text from home can really brighten our day.
If studying abroad teaches you one thing, it’s that there’s still a lot about the world we as college students do not know. I’m here to say that’s perfectly ok and actually expected. Problems don’t occur when we don’t know something, but instead when we don’t seek the answer to what is troubling us. That’s why asking questions is so important to living alone. Between Google, Arcadia’s staff, my home school, my school abroad, and especially my parents, I know there is an ocean’s worth of information for me to pull from for anything I need to know. As you make more local friends, ask them stuff too. Who else is going to know the country more than the people who live here? Networks and support systems are even more crucial when being independent, so take time to seek advice from others if you aren’t sure about something.
This one sounds more counterintuitive than it really is, I promise. Basically, the question I ask myself when I walk into my room is, “If my mom were right behind me, would she say something about my room?” If the answer is yes (and most of the time it is), I’ll usually go ahead and clean. For me, it’s a way to keep myself accountable. I will be the first to admit that I have always, and will always, hate cleaning my room. However, with the daily whirlwind that is living in a foreign country, I find that I have a better peace of mind knowing that if my room is at least somewhat clean and organized I’ll have some order to counterbalance the constant state of adjustment I find myself in. This can also apply to budgeting as well. Remember in Pokémon where you would try to use your bike indoors, and Professor Oak would say, “Now’s not the time for that!”? That’s my mom in my head whenever I’m about to pull out my wallet to buy something I don’t need. A big part of independence for me is improving decision making and thinking ahead, especially when it comes to my finances. While often it gets very tempting to buy things abroad because of the novelty of things being different in comparison to America, having that voice of reason in your head can help you see the bigger picture and make smarter decisions for the long term of your time abroad (Side note: Always save souvenir shopping for the end of the trip).
I don’t think any of the advice I gave in this post is new to anyone reading this. However, I think it’s worth reminding myself that while I am here I’m not only representing Arcadia and the US, but also the family and culture that raised me. The lessons I’ve learned from my environment are what got me here in the first place, so it’s only right that I continue to use those lessons to guide me while away from home. In conclusion, call home today, and if you hear your parent’s in your head while you are thousands of miles away from them, perhaps listen for a little bit; they’re most likely saying something useful.