Study Abroad is like Spring Cleaning For Your Life

Life is short. So naturally, deciding what to do with our short lives is difficult and stress-inducing. You have to make it count, right?

Of course your do. You DESERVE to make it count. But making it count doesn’t mean that you have to do everything. There’s something to be said for doing a few things really well.

Unfortunately, our go-getter, multi-tasking culture makes it difficult to isolate our true passions from the multitude of things we are asked to pursue and the many options that are put in front of us.

Enter study abroad. Spending time in another country – away from your current influences and obligations – could provide that “breath of fresh air” you need to discover what truly matters. It can help you clarify your goals and interests so you can de-clutter your to-do list. And once you sweep aside those half-passions and pseudo-obligations that are distracting you, you’ll be able to focus on what you REALLY care about.

Basically, study abroad is like spring cleaning for your life.

Check out these testimonies from real AFS student bloggers who are discovering themselves and learning how to not sweat the small stuff.

Gaining clarity in Norway

“Realizing that I only have a few months left in my exchange, I have begun to ask myself what my hopes, dreams, likes, and dislikes really are. When I get home, I’ll be faced with making big life decisions, and I want to be sure I’m making the right ones.

Since I’ve been abroad, I’ve been able to discover a ton about myself. When you leave your comfort zone, you leave behind the people and factors that have influenced you most in life. We all tend to adapt to the world around us. However, when that world is flipped, you start to understand who you are in the absence of all those influences. I’ve found it interesting to see what I’ve kept and what I’ve given up in this new setting. The things I’ve kept are clearly the most important to me, and they’re what I always want to have. I feel very fortunate to now know what those things are.”

Going with the flow in Costa Rica

“There are a ton of cultural differences between the US and Costa Rica. Some of the differences that I notice most on a daily basis include:”


“You have to pay to use public bathrooms here, and there is no hot water in the sink or paper towels to dry your hands with. You just have to let them air dry.

Even at school, there is no soap or hot water, and they don’t provide paper towels or toilet paper. Hand sanitizer has become my best friend.”


“Some people have hot water for their showers at home, and some do not. It took me 2 months to figure out we DO have hot water, which is great. Those first couple months, though, were pretty chilly, especially since you shower every morning here. No matter what. Brrr!”


“Dinner is super casual and usually just consists of whatever you can find in the kitchen – usually rice and beans. This threw me a little, since I’m used to having a full, prepared meal at dinnertime. We also eat much later than in the US, sometimes as late as 9PM. At first I thought this was going to be really difficult, because I was used to eating around 5:30-6PM.

In the beginning, these differences were really strange to me and hard to adapt to. But now I don’t mind them so much. They went from being a challenge to a totally manageable part of daily life.”

Finding new strengths in Indonesia

“I’ve been asked what I have learned about myself through this experience, and I have to say that I’ve learned how full of myself I was before I came to Indonesia. When I arrived, I thought I had the whole study abroad thing in the bag. I had browsed every online forum and read every book, so naturally I thought I would be the champion of foreign exchange students.

What I didn’t realize is that nothing ever goes as planned. I was presented with tons of challenges that really made me question myself. In the process, though, I learned how strong I can be and the difference between wanting something and actually needing something.”

New challenges and perspectives in Sweden

“There are a lot of cultural differences here in Sweden that have given me new perspectives, helped me stress less about the small things, and made me more self-sufficient.

For starters, things are very laid back here, and most Swedes live by the motto, “It’ll work itself out!” Surprisingly, it usually does work out. At first this difference really bothered me, but now I think it’s a good skill for an uptight American like me to embrace a little uncertainty.

You have to pay for your grocery bags and bag everything yourself. Also, if you want to use a public bathroom, you often have to pay for it.

Additionally, it seems to me that stores in Sweden don’t have nearly the same variety as stores in the US. The grocery stores all sell the same basic things, as do the clothing stores. You just buy what’s there and don’t worry about the rest.

Finally, public transportation here is huge. Sometimes you have to bike/walk to the bus stop to catch a bus to take you to the train to take you to another bus to your friend’s house. Did you catch that? And I had never really used public transportation before, so I got lost quite a bit at the beginning, which has made for some rather funny stories!”

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