Traveling to another country alone to go to school is something that requires a lot of bravery, in my opinion. Especially with an external study abroad program because I think it is less likely that you will know anyone that will be studying with you. This was what happened to me when I applied to a program in Costa Rica. When I first applied, I had no idea if any other Temple students had as well until the program made the list of participants available. I remember going down the list reading what college everyone was coming from and being a little discouraged when I saw my name was the only one that said Temple University next to it. I definitely knew none of my friends were studying abroad for the fall semester, but it would have been a bit more comforting to me knowing that there would be someone coming from the same school as me.
Learning I was the only one going from my school increased my anxiety about meeting new people and making friends. I tend to be pretty introverted and shy when I first meet someone so new social interaction can make me a bit nervous.
But, I surprised myself.
I wasn’t suddenly an extrovert, but I made friends a lot more quickly than I expected. One of my first days there I was able to meet another student who was living on the same street as I was but with a different host family. The morning of the program orientation, my host mom told me about the other student and said she was going to show us how to walk to the host university together. The other student was very friendly and easy to talk to. I didn’t really feel nervous at all, which wasn’t the norm for me. We stuck together during orientation and I was thankful for the comfort that brought me.
Throughout the orientation, we took small breaks to use the bathroom and stretch our legs. Many of us took that time to meet one another. I tried to go out of my comfort zone and approach people despite my nervousness. I was very surprised at how easily the conversations flowed with each person I met. Everyone was very friendly and easygoing, which allowed me to be a bit more relaxed. I spoke to pretty much everyone at least once during orientation day. I was happy because in that type of situation where there’s a lot of people to meet at once, I can get overwhelmed and stay to myself and not really speak to anyone.
Over the following few days, I still talked to various people trying to get to know them, but I noticed a few other students and I would gravitate to each other. We’d end up speaking and spending the most time together. I became close with these few people pretty quickly, and I was surprised at how fast I became comfortable with them. Before we knew it, we were hanging out all the time and going on weekend vacations together and I am very thankful for them. Friends can definitely improve an experience abroad.
I think one of the reasons why it was easier to make friends more quickly was because everyone is in the same boat pretty much. Sure, there were a couple people that knew each other or people that came from the same state, but that didn’t stop anyone from wanting to meet other students. The majority of the people in my program didn’t know anyone before coming to Costa Rica, so it makes sense they would be searching for friendship connections just like me. I think it allowed us to be more willing to meet new people as opposed to maybe already having a friend group and being comfortable in it to where they may not be as open to getting to know someone new.
I’ve made some good friends so far and have enjoyed our time together. If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t change the fact that I applied for a study abroad program where I didn’t know anyone at all. Everyone’s experience is different, but I think it can be beneficial to go abroad without knowing anyone at first. I think it definitely has helped me with my social skills and I am grateful for the whole experience.