The University of Iowa

What I learned while studying overseas in Australia

July 16th, 2019

Now that I am home from studying overseas, it has caused me to reflect a lot on the time I have spent in Australia, as well as who I was before this semester. I was a 20-year-old girl who THOUGHT she had a good sense of independence as well as self-awareness. She thought she knew exactly who she was, what her interests were, what she valued, and what she wanted her future to be. In the five short months, everything I thought I was or wanted has made a lot of changes. As well as my knowledge about the world about me.

I remember getting a bit uncomfortable when people would tell me “you will learn so much while you’re gone traveling!” It was the most cliché study abroad send-off sentence someone could say. I guess I didn’t fully understand what I was getting my ego into when I picked myself up and dropped myself in the middle of a country I’ve never been to. Reflecting on some of my new insights made me realize how incredibly naive I was before this semester.

Here are a few of the things that have happened to me, or that I have learned while overseas that could happen to you as well if you decide to study abroad.

"I feel like a completely different person than I was when I arrived in Australia. I feel like a more confident, independent, self-assured version of myself."

Your sense of identity will change

Everything from my personality to my interests has changed in these past five months. My identity has always been associated with where I grew up and who I surrounded myself with for consecutive years.  A big part of my identity has always been my experiences growing up. For the first time in my life, I have new experiences that absolutely nobody from home shares with me. Living in the same neighborhood, going to the same elementary school, high school, and college as your friends tend to shape you into similar people. I now have been disassociated from those people and been able to create a new sense of self and identity that isn't connected with anyone else from home.

Your values will change

This goes along with identity but is a very big change I noticed in my time overseas. From social values to world values, they have all changed. Now I value my reputation less and value my differences and authenticity more... I don’t put as much value on materialistic things now, but rather experiences and travel. I value art, inspiration, people, the present, politics, health, and the environment more than ever in my life. I could go on and on about the changes in my values, but we would be here forever. Traveling overseas stripped me from my culture’s values and introduced me to new values from a different culture. It showed me that a society can live in an entirely different way and value different things and still function. Maybe even function better. This also allowed me to evaluate what my values were and consider if they were the best. Just know that if you decide to study abroad, society values change depending on where you travel to and it will very much make an impression on you.

You’re more adaptable than you thought

There were many times I doubted my ability to leave the country completely by myself and thrive in an entirely new one. A big worry for me was that at some point while overseas I would feel lonely and homesick or that it would be hard for me to make friends. But by the end of my semester, I have proved myself wrong.

I noticed how quickly I adapted to the culture and society standards around me. I also noticed how easy it was to make friends (it could just be that Australians are extremely welcoming).

Not only was making friends easy but so was figuring out a new way of living. I no longer had my car to get me around or my friends and family to drive me. There was different food in the grocery stores then I was used to at home. Ordering food or coffee at restaurants and cafes was completely different than what I was used to, but I adapted. To be honest, the whole “culture shock” thing for me was just the confusion I had adapting in the first couple of weeks. It was something I didn’t even realize was happening since I slowly adapted every day.

FOMO (fear of missing out) doesn’t exist. You realize your friends from home are the ones missing out

Before I left I was hesitant about leaving because I knew how much I would miss my friends. I thought about the events, birthdays, parties, and celebrations that I was going to miss while overseas. I quickly realized I wasn’t wishing I was with my friends at home, but I was wishing they were overseas with me. I was the one who got to see the Sydney Opera House, visit rainforests in Cairns, go thrift shopping in Melbourne and snorkel the Great Barrier Reef. It was during those moments that I would sometimes stop and think ‘I wish my friends were here to see this.'  I also was making new friends and having the time of my life at a university in Australia...I wasn’t missing out on anything.

You will miss your friends at home, but you will also make new ones.

You say ‘yes’ to too many things...

Well, this may be a personal problem. But every offer I had to do something or experience an opportunity if I could...I would. I had this overwhelming feeling the whole time that I would only be experiencing all of this one time in my life at this age, so I would say yes to most things. This caused me to spend a lot of money and lose a lot of sleep. It is important to take advantage of this short semester and take the opportunities that are put in front of you. If this means losing sleep or it. I regret absolutely nothing.

You will gain confidence

Living in a new country helped me find a new sense of independence as well as self-discovery. I have had to network myself in a new country with no connections. I have had to figure out public transportation, a new education system, new ways of communication, and new social norms. I feel like a completely different person than I was when I arrived in Australia. I feel like a more confident, independent, self-assured version of myself.


Goodbyes are really hard

This might sound like an obvious one. I made so many friends overseas and grew close to them very fast. The hardest part of my entire study abroad experience was saying goodbye to my friends and the new city. It almost felt like I was living an entirely different life while studying overseas since I had nobody from home. Saying goodbye to a life I feel like I just started and began thriving in was really hard. With that being said, I feel very grateful to have had such a great experience and meet such amazing people that are hard to say goodbye to.

I know how cliché it sounds but studying abroad will teach you so much more than you expect. I learned in the classroom but I learned so much more outside of it. You will find that you are capable of many more things than you thought as well as learn a lot more about yourself.

You will finish the semester inspired in many different ways and you will find that you are a better version of you.

If you get the opportunity to live overseas, take it! There will not be a minute you regret.

Megan Schnoebelen is a UI journalism and communications major from Des Moines, Iowa, spending the semester at the University of Newcastle in Australia on the Iowa Regents Semester in Australia program.  


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