Studying abroad is an intrinsically complex experience—the immense amount of privilege that one holds when granted the opportunity to drop everything and live abroad for a semester or year is not to be taken lightly. However, an awareness of that privilege often arrives with a sense of guilt. From guilt regarding not doing “enough” to take advantage of your time, to feeling bad for disliking parts of the experience, all the way to feeling guilty because you are having experiences that many of your friends or family are unable to have, the experience can be rife with guilt. Study abroad guilt can eat you alive, but I found that hearing the experiences of others who are dealing with it is incredibly validating.
Firstly, it is OK to take some weekends or evenings to yourself while you are abroad. Living in a place for four-to-nine months not only means that you will have enough time to truly get to know the city, but it also means that it is okay to have a day where you stay in bed and watch Netflix! You do not have to spend every waking moment doing something – there is no ‘right’ way to be abroad. By traveling, by living there, by bringing yourself and your stories and perspective to a new place, you are doing it correctly. Forcing yourself to do it a certain way or push yourself past your limit is never healthy. Ultimately, the you who lives abroad is still the you who may have had a bad day or run out of emotional energy —so lean into those days and take time for yourself! It’ll make your good days so much better.
Secondly, it is totally okay to have some complaints. Being grateful and appreciative of your experience is not mutually exclusive with being critical of parts of it. A huge part of studying abroad is navigating the challenges of a new place in order to learn new things about yourself. No place is perfect—it is okay to acknowledge that lack of perfection, especially because you are living there!
And lastly, in my opinion, the most pervasive study abroad guilt has to do with family. So many of my peers have expressed a sense of guilt when they receive a text from their family member that expresses, almost with a tinge of lament, how envious they are of their experience. To be seeing things and visiting places that members of your family could only dream of can prompt a sense of guilt—the voices in your head may start asking you why YOU of all people deserve this. To combat this, it’s so important to keep your family in the loop—they want you to do this. They sent you here! Find ways to share what you are seeing with them. For me, it was committing to ensuring I could bring my family here and show them the beauty I had been seeing. However, if that isn’t feasible, don’t worry—make the most out of your experience. Bring home memories to share with your family. That’s the best repayment you can give them for working hard enough and sacrificing so much to allow you to experience so much beauty.