I think one thing that rarely gets mentioned when talking about study abroad experiences is the importance of interpersonal skills. Imagine landing in a foreign country with several others you barely know. Imagine seeing these people almost every single day for six weeks straight. What do you think are the chances you will see eye-to-eye on everything all the time with everyone? – Not very high.
Being in a group of less than fifteen people, we usually did everything in one group. I’m sure everyone naturally had their preferences of who they liked more, but regardless, we all stuck together. As cool as it was to get to know everyone really well in a short period of time, you can’t help but start to pick up on everyone’s “annoying” habits as well. Kind of like rooming with your friends for the first time and realizing all these new things about them you hadn’t known before. Anyways, I noticed that things could go downhill very quickly. For example, planning our weekend excursions was our responsibility and as you can imagine, with a group of fourteen unique individuals with different agendas, it was no easy task. There were always people who felt like they were not being heard, people who felt like others were being pushy and bossy, and those who felt like others were not contributing enough- just to name a few scenarios. To make it worse, I noticed that this tension does not have a place to go and usually builds up over time. As time went by, I saw how people could be passive aggressive- I too am guilty of that on several occasions. I think in situations like this, our interpersonal skills are really put to the test. The funny thing is that although I know communication is important, I had a hard time getting myself to actually confront anyone about anything, which I am sure everyone in my group could relate to as well.
On that note then, I’d like to share some advice I think may be useful for those planning on going abroad. The people of our study abroad program are the ones who make up our support system while abroad, but they can also be the source of our frustrations. This is the case whether abroad or not, but while abroad, this is really important as we are essentially “stuck” with the same faces for an extended period of time. If something is bothering us, chances are that it may happen again and we will be bothered by it again. Therefore, don’t let that tension build up and talk to someone about it. Whether it’s to a teacher or program coordinator, let it out. Furthermore, we are not able to control how others feel and react to situations, but we do have control over how we feel and react. So, try to make the best of every situation, try not to let small things get to you, and internalize the fact that we are all different and none of us intend to annoy each other- it’s a matter of perspective in my opinion. Also, be sure to make time for yourself- to do the things that you want to do and see- and make sure to get your sleep! If you want to be the best version of yourself and have a positive attitude, make sure you are not sleep-deprived!