I remember getting yearly pictures taken from when I was in elementary school all the way until my senior year of high school. You did not have to look from my Kindergarten picture to senior photo to see a huge difference; differences could be seen from just one year to the next. During the time of those photos being taken, I was surprised at how much I had grown in just one year. One thing those pictures did not show was how I had grown mentally in that past year. A picture may be worth a thousand words but those that are staged do not always capture how we are feeling, our hopes, our dreams, our fears. I have many pictures from my time abroad: pictures of the Eiffel Tower, Royal Palace of Madrid, Big Ben, and many other great places, but those pictures did not capture the worry I had before and throughout my time away from home.
When I was preparing to go to Spain, I was very excited. My dream of traveling was coming true. I had never left the country before and now I was about to embark on part one of a two-semester journey to Europe. It was not until I got on the plane and was in the air taking off that I thought, “What am I getting myself into?”
Travel anxiety is common. There are plenty of potential scenarios to worry about if you take the time to think about them. When I first arrived in Madrid, I was afraid of getting lost in the Barajas Airport. I constantly asked my more experienced friends all my questions about traveling and probably overdid it. I was very cautious with my personal belongings and visibly on edge.
My second semester rolled around and I was in Nantes, France. Though I could always find something to worry about, most of the fears that I had when I got to Europe four months beforehand had disappeared.
My friends used to say, “You can tell who’s American because they run across the street.” I used to grab my purse and make a run for it as soon as I saw a chance to cross the street. After a while, I realized that I was the only one doing it. All the locals jaywalked like nothing. Flash forward to when I was in Nantes, crossing the street with one of my friends. At that moment, I saw myself from one semester ago. I smiled as I crossed the street, of course checking to make sure that no one was coming. My friend asked me how I was able to walk so calmly all the time. I told her about the growth I had experienced from last semester, and that she could reach that point too.
Be cautious; don’t worry.
This is the best advice I can give you based on my experiences overseas. As someone who worries all the time, I will say that the longer you are abroad and the more experienced in traveling that you become, the less you will worry. It is still a good idea to be cautious. Caution is good in any situation. Be smart. Hold onto your bag when you are walking around, do not leave your phone laying around in a public place, (if you drink) do not drink more than you can handle, follow the laws of the country you are staying in, etc. I would also recommend getting insurance in that country. This advice came from a family friend, but I did have insurance in Spain and France. Although I was fortunate enough that nothing happened to me while I was there, it was still nice to travel with this safety net, knowing I would not have to pay a ton of money in the case of an emergency.
If you worry about something bad happening all the time, then that is what you will remember from your time away.
You will want to remember your time abroad as something good. Many people I have spoken with back home before and even after coming home from being overseas say how dangerous the world is. While the nightly news does a good job at showing that, many people who study abroad come back with overall positive experiences. Those were the people I spoke to when I started to get travel anxieties. Do this, do your research on the country you are studying in, and you will start to feel better. Then, when you reflect on your time abroad, you can help others feel more at ease whether they are going to travel abroad or not.