Studying Abroad: Expectation vs. Reality

Studying abroad is an incredible experience but everyone must understand what to expect and how to cope with the change of language.


Photo by Nils Nedel on Unsplash

When you get on the plane, that is the moment when you realize what you're really about to do. You might feel more excited, scared or, like me, as if you decided to do something really stupid that you can't handle, but after a while everything is going to be fine.

In our school there are many exchange students and you probably know at least one of them. But have you ever thought about being one of them? Studying abroad is an incredible experience that would help you with your language skills and your independence.

Some questions that come up right away are: what are future, actual, and former exchange students’ thoughts? What are their expectations and what is actually the reality of the experience?

In order to explain the different points of view talking about this experience, I interviewed one of the representatives of an Italian organization that is spending her year in Canada, and a girl who is coming to the U.S. next year.

First, I interviewed an Italian girl, Giada Pecchia, a 16 y/o who is planning to come to the United States next year. [Due to a language barrier, the original interview was conducted in Italian, so the following is a translation.]

Q: What makes you want to become an exchange student?

GP: To be honest, initially I decided to leave only in order to escape from my city and especially from my school. I don’t really like talking about the organization and the topics. Later, I started being really interested in this experience and listening to other exchange students’ stories. My wish of escaping became a desire for living in a reality that is completely different from mine.

Q: What are your expectations?

GP: I decided not to create big expectations, I would rather leave without them so that I can appreciate everything I find on my way. I expect to be put with a lovely family, that shares my interests, and improving my abilities talking about relationships.

Q: What problems are you afraid of?

GP: I am mostly afraid of friendships and school. I want to be able to make a lot of friends in order not to be lonely in America. In addition, coming back to Italy after that will be really hard and I don’t want my Italian school to stress me furthermore, considering that I could also not pass my exams.

Q: Do you have any goals for your exchange year?

GP: Of course, I want to improve my English and managing to get the C1 certification. I would also like to leave the school less stressed and taking part in different classes which allow me to cultivate my passions. I think this time will be useful to be more independent and self-confident, considering the fact that I will have to adapt to my new life quite quickly.


Next, I interviewed Irene Fasola, a friend of mine and classmate who is living right now in Canada. [This interview is also a translation.]

Q: How is your exchange year going?

IF: It is going pretty well. I’ve been here for about three months so I’m still trying to get used to everything around me. Honestly, sometimes I feel a stranger in my own life and this scares me because makes me doubt about my choice of being here. I think the decision of the area wasn’t the best, but of course I don’t want to come back to Italy and I’m confident that everything is going to be better.

Q: What met your expectations?

IF: I left Italy with too many expectations, I admit it, and probably they were too big. I have a dreamer’s mind and I heard other exchange student’s stories so I built my own expectations too much. The other students were obviously talking about their general experience and they were very happy and they don’t really talk about what was wrong at the beginning of their experience. I was very satisfied by the school though because it is really organized, the teachers are really good and I like the general school system.

Q: What didn’t meet you expectations?

IF: Almost everything is different from what I was thinking. Every story is different so you can never understand how your year is going to be. I’m a little disappointed about the organization of the host-families because I thought that they would have been more welcoming and interested, and more help from the local coordinator about the change of family. An other point is making friends: I have never been shy but here people seem not to be interested in knowing me better and in addition there are almost 60 exchange students in my school so the locals are sick of us.

Q: Did you meet any problems? 

IF: The first period is very hard for me and my only consolation are the other exchange students in my school since they understand my feelings. Getting used to the new life, new habits, new food, new school system, new people is not so easy as I thought. I still have to find a way for being recognized by the locals. So far I really miss my home-country and being here I also realized that I miss things I would have never thought.

Q: What are the positive aspects?

IF: This year gives you the possibility of growing independent and more confident in yourself and your thoughts. You can have help from your friends and your family, but you have to cope with everything on your own and that’s a great point. Moreover, no one knows you, so you can start from the bottom and build a better person for yourself without prejudices.