University of Canterbury (New Zealand) adviser Anna Foster (left) discusses life of a student abroad in New Zealand with ISU Freshman Rachel Santi at the Fall 2018 Study Abroad Fair. 

Last year, more than 1,800 students from Iowa State studied abroad. As one of those students, I know the months leading up to their time abroad can be stressful. Students know they are embarking on an adventure but really do not know the emotional and psychological growth that can happen while away.

The Iowa State Study Abroad Center lays out a lot of preparation tools, orientations and student panels for young, adventure-seeking students. In their handbook they provide preparation tools for budgeting, packing, traveling and cultural adjustment. The budgeting tool gives tips on how to use money in most countries and what it means to budget. Their packing section tell us to pack light and the travel section gives tips on the process of actually getting to a destination. Lastly, their cultural adjustment section walks us through the psychological process of being away and in a different place.

What I have an issue with is being prepared for something that you have not experienced yet. Socrates would probably agree that being prepared for something is wise and creates success, but he also acknowledged, “Only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” This leaves us knowing that preparation is possible and perhaps responsible, but it is also wise to recognize we know nothing. In other words, Socrates is talking about the “curve ball”.

The tools provided by the Study Abroad Center are very useful and it turns out they are quite accurate from my experience. With their travel guide, knowing flight information, terminals, cheapest travel options, payment methods, group travel tips, hostel information and passport drama can be stressful. 

This, I was prepared for, but I did not anticipate the emotional and psychological experience of making traveling plans while abroad. 

Sometimes to alleviate stress and anxiety while making travel plans and getting prepared, I had to realize that I knew nothing. Yes, I knew when my flight was suppose to be, but I also knew that I did not know if it would = be canceled or not. Knowing that gave me a “I am prepared, but whatever goes” mentality. An even-keeled attitude toward things that go right and that go wrong. Planning diligently and being responsible, but also acknowledging that it is not diligent to become emotionally distressed when a plane is missed, passport is lost, keys are missing, wallet is nowhere to be found, exam is bombed, or you are tired.

The largest guide the Study Abroad Center provides is for cultural adjustment. This preparation tool speaks right to emotion and psychological phenomenons while studying abroad. A few of the stages mentioned are: honeymoon, culture shock, initial adjustment, mental isolation, acceptance, integration and return anxiety. The guide provides some emotions to expect through these periods, such as: excitement, anger, frustration, anxiety, encouragement, discouragement, loneliness and joy. A pretty wide spectrum, which I can attest to most of them. Prior, I could tell you nothing about what it felt like to feel those emotions.

In all, preparation is a responsible thing, but it is also responsible to realize you cannot anticipate the “curve ball”. Studying abroad was one of the most challenging things I have done in my life and I encourage my peers to embrace the unknown.

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