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International Center

University of Missouri

What happens while you’re away

by Garren W.

When you get ready to go abroad, especially for a semester or even a year like I did, you have to consider the fact that time doesn’t stop while you’re gone. It can be a hard process to make sure you’re ready, and it’s even harder to recognize that just as you’re changing and evolving, others are, too. Each semester I’ve been here I’ve faced a different challenge posed by my absence, and I hope that you can benefit from my experience. Life goes on.

My first semester in Costa Rica, I had to accept that my friends were changing. In my absence, they’d mostly started to grow apart as they moved into different stages of their lives or focused on different academic and social pursuits. I value my friends above just about everything, and so it was hard for me to come to terms with my lack of control. I refused to accept it for a couple of months, and it made my culture shock worse. I had to acknowledge that while I’ll still have my old friends, I can’t expect us to spend every minute of free time together like we used to. I’m going to have to focus on forming a new group of friends when I get back.

I also stay active in student government and student affairs when I’m on campus, so it’s been tough for me to step back and trust others to take care of the organizations and projects that I have devoted so much time to. It was especially difficult considering the amount of change Mizzou has been going through and all of the high impact opportunities that came with it. In that respect, I suppose I still struggle on focusing my attention on my time here, but it may also be healthy to not neglect my relationships on campus. And sometimes, it isn’t.

When you’re preparing to go abroad, you naturally stop to consider what you would do if something happened to someone you loved. It’s an important step of preparing yourself, and while you hope nothing happens, you have to recognize that it could. I knew that it probably would in my case. One of my paternal grandmothers had been suffering from stage IV bone cancer for a few years and my maternal grandfather has been bedridden for nearly two years now. Considering their conditions, I knew that there was a decent chance that one, if not both, of them would pass before I returned. My grandma died a couple of months ago and yesterday I got the phone call that my grandpa probably won’t make it until I get back. So what do you do about it? This is the big question, and while I hope that no one else has to experience it, I want my experience to be there to help them if it can.

One of the best perks of choosing an affiliate program for me was the great health insurance, which covers an hour of therapy each week with no copay. I started going a short while after I arrived to help overcome my culture shock so that I could focus on enjoying my experience. I haven’t stopped yet because I’ve found it to be really useful in processing everything that I’ve experienced here.

Another important crutch for when things are hard is your relationships. In most programs, there are program staff, host families, fellow students and professors who are truly interested in your well-being. If something should happen, it’s important to open up to those people so that they can help you move forward. Your time abroad is limited, and you shouldn’t waste it stuck in your own mind.

About the blogger

Garren W. is studying abroad on the IFSA-Butler: Universidad Nacional program in Heredia, Costa Rica.

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