On loneliness, language barriers and living abroad: two students share their experiences studying abroad last semester
BY AUDREY WARNE AND CASSIE MANZ
On language barriers
Cassie: How has the experience of taking all of your classes in French been?
Audrey: It’s been frustrating, but it’s also been good at certain points. Sometimes I’m sitting there and I’m only getting like every third word but I’ve been learning how to force myself to keep pushing through doing things that are really difficult.
Cassie: Thinking about language has been one of the most interesting things about being abroad. So many things can slip by and you just can’t communicate fully or what you want to.
Audrey: It’s funny because sometimes I feel like I’m killing it like I’m having a full conversation or I’m talking to someone I met at at bar or I’m going to class and discussing like fucking Derrida in French, but then like I try to order to a cup of water and it takes me like 10 minutes and the person is like “I do not know what you want, I cannot understand you” and I’m like “Water, I want water” and it’s so frustrating. It’s just so funny how sometimes I can be like “Yeah, I’m doing it” and other times I can’t even ask for a cup of water.
Cassie: What has surprised you most about your study abroad experience? In what ways has it been different from your expectations?
Audrey: Probably how hard my classes are, or I guess how bad my French is, compared to what I had thought. I remember hearing like “Oh it’s so much easier than New College,” or “It’s kind of a semester off!” Then I got here and had my ass kicked.
Cassie: Were you homesick at all?
Audrey: Oh yeah, I’ve been homesick a lot. I have one or two friends who speak English but other than that it’s been kind of all in French, which can be really isolating because I don’t feel like I can express myself fully or really explain what I want to in French. Sometimes I’ll have interactions–especially in my courses–where like I just feel so incompetent and so tired and completely disconnected.
Cassie: I’ve had kind of an opposite experience, but in a way it’s been just as isolating. All of my friends [abroad] speak English and all of my classes are in English but not being able to speak the language in Prague has been such a weird thing. It’s been very isolating because there’s so much you miss out on.
Audrey: What has the hardest or the most challenging part of this whole experience been for you?
Cassie: I guess probably just being homesick in the beginning, that was hard. I really have been lonelier than I expected and it has just been really hard.
Audrey: It is really hard. That was one of the reasons I wanted to write this. I think that there’s a conception that–and I mean I think it’s because studying abroad requires a certain level of privilege–but I feel like something that a lot of people don’t talk about is that it is really hard and it is really isolating and lonely.
Cassie: It’s weird too because I would see other people studying abroad who had the perfect Instagram experience and it looked like they had so many friends and it just looked really perfect to me–I mean that’s social media–but I never felt like I heard about study abroad actually being a lonely thing.
Audrey: I think it’s so common, I think it’s an integral part of it, but I think that’s the point–that no one wants to talk about it, because it is kind of uncomfortable. I think about when people get back and everyone’s like, “Oh, how was it?” and everyone responds with, “Oh it was great, it was wonderful.” To be prepared to handle it [the loneliness] is helpful I think, but also you can be as prepared as you want and it’s not anything until you actually have to live it.
Audrey: What was the most rewarding thing about the experience or something that was unexpected maybe but you enjoyed a lot or felt like you got a lot out of ?
Cassie: One of the things that I enjoyed that I didn’t expect was when I started finally having moments where I was like, “Oh, I’m existing here and I’m happy doing it,” that was kind of a relief. In the beginning I put so much pressure on myself to be happy but I didn’t feel like I was and I was like, “What’s wrong with me? Shouldn’t I be so ecstatic here?” It’s also been really rewarding to see that I can be lonely and be alone and it can be okay and it’s not the end of the world.
Audrey: I think it’s funny because being lonely is such a common, almost connective, human experience, but at the same time it feels so isolating in the moment. Being alone in a foreign country where you don’t know anyone makes your loneliness is a little more justified, or like self-explanatory at least, and it’s almost less isolating because you are actually isolated as opposed to feeling isolated while you’re supposed to be connected to all these other humans that you know and love.
On living abroad
Cassie: Did you miss things about home that you didn’t expect?
Audrey: I did end up meeting people, but something that I think I didn’t expect was how much I missed how comfortable I am in the U.S. Being over here and trying to make a life here and become a part of the culture, I’ve realized how much of an American I am and how comfortable I am with American culture.
Cassie: I’ve thought the same stuff about how I didn’t realize how American I actually am or how much that identity would follow me, even if I went abroad. I’ve realized that it would be much harder than I thought to really immerse myself and that I really am most comfortable in that culture.
Audrey: What has been the biggest cultural difference you’ve experienced in your daily life?
Cassie: Getting to know Czech history and Czech culture has been really different. The history of communism in the Czech Republic has had such an effect on their culture. Growing up in American schools, you’re taught that communism is bad, and then with my background at New College, where I’ve learned to be more critical of capitalism, coming to an actual post-communist country where I’ve been able to hear their opinions has been really enlightening.
Audrey Warne, third-year and Tangent Managing Editor, and Cassie Manz third-year and Tangent reporter studied abroad last semester and decided to share their experiences with each other in the form of a casual open-ended interview. Audrey studied in Paris, France with the Center for International Educational Exchange (CIEE) French and Critical Studies Program, taking classes at the Université de Paris III and the Centre parisien d’etudes critiques. Cassie studied in Prague, Czech Republic with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and took classes at a satellite of Charles University.