What's the Difference Between Studying Abroad and Living Abroad?

“Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience” is said time and time again. As someone who spent a semester in Granada, I can agree with the cliché. From classes to traveling the only thing you’re truly required to do while at a university or language school is go to class. Life becomes so simple that many people, like me, fall in love with the idea of living abroad after returning home to cope with reverse culture shock. However, studying abroad and living abroad in another language and culture have their differences.

 

Living with a Host Family vs. Searching for an Apartment

If you stay with a host family, studying abroad provides the comfort of instantly knowing where you’ll live. My host mom did my laundry, cleaned my room and made all my deliciously Spanish meals. Living abroad requires more independent research for housing. Instead of a host mom meeting me after orientation, I moved into an Air BnB until I found an apartment. It’s not ideal to live out of a suitcase, but searching for an apartment is the first step of transitioning to life abroad. Plus, you’ll feel like a complete superhero once you’ve found your perfect piso.

 

Registering for Classes vs. Applying for Residency and Opening a Bank Account

Aside from traditional essays, homework and group projects, the most tedious task of studying abroad is the paperwork for classes. I remember running around campus from one office to another for credit approval and writing my name, major, and GPA one too many times. As a future resident and account holder abroad, there is just as much paperwork, but way more government bureaucracy and appointments. The silver lining? Realizing you don’t have to pinch as many coins to travel, eat and shop since you have a job this time around. Cheers to not being a broke and foreign college student!

 

Going to Class vs. Going to Work

Speaking of work, in case you forgot, it’s not optional. Unlike college where you can skip classes, party all night or neglect to do your homework, you should find a routine to avoid showing up hungover or exhausted. I promise you, it doesn’t fly when you have to teach English to preschool kids. Going to work and making money are a necessity to pay rent, buy groceries and finance those weekend trips to Paris or Barcelona. Put that bank account to good use!


For me, living in Logroño has been as uniquely challenging as studying in Granada. No, living abroad doesn’t guarantee hoards of people who are eager to make friends, but studying abroad doesn’t guarantee the financial comfort of working to indulge in new adventures. There's a certain level of independence and initiative that is required when living in a country for an extended period of time that studying abroad does not and cannot prepare you for. Not only do you need a passion for the culture or language, but you have to find ways to immerse yourself to avoid isolation and homesickness. Learn how to embrace the normal or "boring" days and cherish the little quirks about your new home. It’ll make this life abroad your best yet! 

What differences have you noticed between living, and studying abroad?


Sojourner is a 22 year old traveling chocoholic from Milwaukee, WI. A graduate of Bradley University with a double major in Psychology and Spanish and minor in Women’s and Gender Studies, she currently resides in Logroño, La Rioja, Spain as a Fulbright Scholar. When Sojourner is not teaching, she can be found writing, eating or wine tasting her way through life at sojournies.weebly.com. You can follow her on Instagram and Twitter @sojowhite to keep up with her journeys to come!