5 Things I Wish I’d Known in My First Year Abroad

5 Things I Wish I’d Known in My First Year Abroad

By Wendy Tafur N.

The year before I came to study in Seattle, my brother had just graduated from Seattle University as well, so I felt like I had someone to give me general advice on how to be prepared. My brother has always been more extroverted and interested in business and finance. I have always been a little more introverted and interested in art. Because we are completely different people, our experiences were very different, but that didn’t make his advice any less valid. 

I think the more you listen to other people, the better. Everyone will tell you the basic things: try to be patient with your roommates, talk to your RAs, do your laundry, learn to budget... I’m here to tell you some of my brother’s advice, advice my friends have also looked for, and what I really wish I’d known my first year.  

You don’t have to be best friends with your roommate, but you need to respect each other.

Obviously, you can be best friends with your roommate. But, you don’t have to be, contrary to what all those college movies have shown you. Sure, there can be a magical connection and you’ll realize that your roommate is the best friend you could ever ask for. On the other hand, there are plenty of videos on YouTube about roommate horror stories. My neighbor had his own roommate horror story.

Most likely, however, your roommate isn’t going to be the best or the worst, so you don’t have to force a relationship. It will just happen the way it is supposed to. My freshman year roommate and I are close friends now, but during our first year, we both had our own group of friends. We would come home and vent to each other about our days, and ask each other advice, but we weren’t together 24/7 because we already had to live together, and I really think that is why we were able to become such good friends. We gave each other space.

I’ve also lived with a close friend and realized that as great as they were as a person, our personalities simply didn’t match as roommates. You have to be patient, and you can’t expect your roommate to get used to what you want. There will always be some sort of compromise, so be understanding and respectful.

Roommate horror stories are exceptions.

You’ll be lonely at some point. Your friend group will probably get smaller as the year goes by—and that’s okay.

When the hype of the first few weeks in college starts to die down, groups start forming, dividing, and therefore, your friend group may also start getting smaller. This is also why it’s harder for transfer students to make friends than for new students that join in the Fall; because by the time they transfer in, a lot of groups have already been settled. I know it sounds very clique-y, but it’s real. When you start seeing everyone in groups and start feeling like you don’t belong, it makes you lonely and homesick.

Of course it’s lonely; you go in and out of classrooms and back to your dorm or apartment, to Skype friends from back home. How are you supposed to meet people?

Here’s a tip: Most people getting involved in clubs, social or academic, societies, fraternities, school events, or leadership positions, they’re not just doing that to kill time or put it on their resumes. They’re joining all these groups because, like you, they want to meet people and realize that the best way to meet people isn’t necessarily the classroom.

Cities have their own “personalities,” so before moving do some research on the political climate and social life, especially if you think this might affect you because of, for example, religion, race, gender identity or sexual orientation.

I’ve talked about this in other articles because when I talk to other students, this always comes up. Seattle is a very liberal city, and Seattle University is in Capitol Hill, which is known as the center for LGBTQ+ communities. For some of them, this was a very important factor. Coming from more conservative countries or communities, this felt safer. It allows an opportunity to explore gender identity or sexuality in an environment that feels to some extent, more understanding. Likewise, some areas of the United States especially in this political climate feel unsafe to a lot of people because of their race, religion, gender identity or sexual orientation. Sadly, discrimination of every kind happens everywhere, even as microaggressions, but I still think it may be important to look into this aspect of the city you will be moving into.

For some of you as well, this kind of “liberal thinking” may be strange, simply because it’s different than the kind of culture you’ve grown up in. In this case, it’s important to remember that, as with roommates, the first rule is to be respectful and understanding.

It’s okay for your English to be imperfect.

And, under that topic of microaggressions, real friends won’t judge you for your English being imperfect. Okay, real friends may laugh a little if you are that comfortable with each other, but it will never cross a line of judgment. There shouldn’t be an expectation for you to “get rid of your accent” or anything along those lines. Firstly, because everyone has an accent. Different parts of the U.S. have different accents. And, if anyone points out your English isn’t perfect, chances are neither is theirs. As a second language, some of us know more grammar rules than we realize, so stay confident. In either case, your English language skills will improve a lot in your time in the U.S. so don’t let anyone discourage or intimidate you.

You don’t have to find the love of your life in college.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say that you will find the love of your life in college. Even when I go back home, one of the questions I get asked the most is about my love life. This may be important to some people, but I didn’t come abroad to be in a relationship. I came for the whole experience.

I’m not saying you can’t find love in college, just that the expectation that you should, is wrong. People do things at their own pace and have their own priorities. There is a lot more to life than that, so whether or not you find love, it’s perfect because your time abroad is about all the experiences you were able to live through. Have fun and do as much as you can so you don’t have many regrets. Just make sure that if you’re dating, it’s because you want to and not because you are expected to.

And, as another tip... Unless it’s serious, don’t date someone from your same floor at the dorms. If that goes wrong, you’re going to run into them all. the. time. For the rest of the year. I don’t think this one needs further explanation.

Your time abroad, and especially your first year will be a time when you will be challenged. Be flexible. Be understanding. Be willing to learn new things and have your views disputed. All of this will teach you how to adapt and gladly take what life throws at you.

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Wendy is an international student from Ecuador who just graduated from Seattle University with a double major in Creative Writing and Theatre. She’s excited to share some of the stories of things she’s learned in her time in the U.S.!

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