The 4 Phases of Studying Abroad

March 24, 2015
The 4 Phases of Studying Abroad

Before studying abroad, I anticipated that the transition to life in a new country would not be without some bumps in the road. I read all about culture shock and the phases of adjustment. Despite my doubts about the accuracy of this cycle, what I read was startlingly accurate for the most part. But my experience featured an additional stage that, for me, was certainly the most significant step of all.

The 4 Phases of Studying Abroad

Phase 1: The Honeymoon Phase

As its name suggests, this phase is the most blissful of the four. It begins upon arrival in the new location as the pre-departure excitement comes to fruition. The feeling intensifies with the first glimpse of the countryside, the first meal of authentic food or wine, and the first interaction with a local.

Everything is new, exciting, and better than imagined. Certain phrases will constantly be on the tip of your tongue, including “Is this real life?,” “Do I really live here?,” and “I’m never going home.” This period may last only a few days or continue for the first several weeks in the new destination.

Phase 2: The “Oh Crap” Phase

Undoubtedly, the second phase is the most unpleasant of the cycle. It is during this phase that the novelty of being abroad begins to wear off and the struggle of daily life begins to take its toll. By this point, the beauty of the city and surreal nature of the experience begin to fade. Everyday activities such as going grocery shopping and to the post office prove both challenging and frustrating.

While routine tasks become increasingly difficult, homesickness jumps at the opportunity to further complicate things. Missing the comfort of home, family and friends, and the familiarity of one’s own country contribute to the feeling that a huge mistake has been made. One might feel as though she never should have come and is in way over her head.

Depending on the level of intensity, this phase can be extremely disheartening and perpetuate for several weeks.

The 4 Phases of Studying Abroad

Phase 3: The Acceptance Phase

After being temporarily down in the dumps, things start looking up again. Friendships and relationships develop and a level of comfort is established. No, things may not be exactly the same as they are at home, but this is what you signed up for, right? Soon, the daily struggles don’t seem quite as difficult and the adventures of each day become exciting again.

This phase is the most gradual of the four and sometimes the transition from two to three happens unnoticeably.

Phase 4: The Reflection Phase

This is the phase I didn’t read about anywhere. No one warned me this would happen and I was caught off-guard when it did. Before I knew it, each experience was a memory. A train ride became an opportunity to reflect. Every destination and site is educational and eye-opening. I often find myself lost in thought about where I am, what I’m doing, how I got here, and where I’m going next.

When voiced aloud, this phase seems to be the stereotypical “Go abroad and find yourself” part of the cycle. But in every sense of the cliché, that is exactly what this phase is about. The initial excitement, the harsh bite of reality, and the realization that everything will be okay are things of the past. Finally, you are able to absorb and appreciate everything that is going on around you through new eyes and with a fresh mind. Now it is time to thrive.

Whether or not you find yourself moving through this cycle as described, certain stages of the process will definitely actualize. Remember, each is temporary and once you have made it through, there will be clear thoughts to be had, refreshing realizations to be made, and precious memories to hold onto forever.


The 4 Phases of Studying Abroad photo credit by Kate K. 

About Kate Kielceski

Currently studying abroad in Perugia, Italy, Kate is an undergrad at Penn State University majoring in Political Science and International Studies. In addition to suffering from constant wanderlust, Kate is a lover of crosswords, wannabe photographer, and nationally ranked equestrian.”

One thought on “The 4 Phases of Studying Abroad

  1. March 25, 2015

    It’s cliche to say but it’s so true that my semester abroad changed my life, so I loved reading this. I actually experienced the honeymoon and “Oh Crap” phases you mentioned in reverse order. When I arrived, everything seemed to go wrong that first day and I almost booked a flight home thinking I’d made a terrible mistake. Luckily, everything ended up working out within a few days and it quickly became the best time of my life.

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