I think the “w” curve is well known to the study abroad community, as I’ve heard of it multiple times during my various orientations and in conversation with friends studying abroad. There’s the anticipation of studying abroad, the honeymoon phase of being in a new place, the highs of being in a new place to the lows of shock and trying to fit in. The path is not precise, and everyone dwells in different stages for different amounts of time. From what I’ve seen, people from the IFSA group have taken off in different directions. A large group of them have stuck together and continue hanging out and traveling together. Others have joined a sport and bonded with their fellow athletes, others with their flat mates or hall mates. My experience of the curve is has been less of a progression over time. Rather, it’s a been a constant struggle and balance between trying to find familiarity and reaching into discomfort in hopes of having worthwhile experiences.
In trying to fit in and find a community, since Freshers week I’ve aggressively plunged myself into conversations, social events, and society groups to meet more people. Many interactions have been ungraceful, some superficial, but also many fruitful and interesting. And without making the effort I would never have met these people. Being someone who enjoys TV in bed, and reading a good book with a cup of tea at home, trying to be a sociable extrovert was absolutely nerve wracking and exhausting. But I know that all the people I’ve gotten to know outside of IFSA have been through these uncomfortable times.
Thankfully, having the IFSA orientation allowed me the opportunity to meet a group of lovely girls. But given that a common study abroad expectation is to go out and meet local students to learn about them and their way of life. I think it is the moments of failing to reach those expectations that creates the low points of the “w” curve. In my experience, it’s so important to acknowledge these moments of failing to find what you’re looking for or not hitting the marks of what you expected to experience. There will always be moments of feeling lonely, and wallowing in sadness and browsing Facebook to see how well everyone else seems to be fitting in, isn’t productive. It is precisely during these moments that we need to either take action to change our predicament, or be confident and comfortable in the choice to have some alone time. I have often found solace simply in knowing that I’m not alone in these moments, and having a stable foundation of friends and family to turn to will always help.