Managing Expectations: Unplanned Events Abroad

This blog post is courtesy of Gianessa Refermat, a Business Management and Marketing major who went on the University of Manchester – Alliance Manchester Business School program. This Study Abroad alumna is also currently a Recruiter in the Study Abroad Office! 

I’m going to tell you a story of a girl who went abroad and didn’t expect what she would find when she got there. She packed her bags, got on a plane, and flew to England. On the long flight, she was bursting with excitement. She wasn’t scared at all, just waiting to see what she would find on the other side. But what she forgot to do is gain a more accurate depiction of the place she would be living and the city she would be studying in.

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All smiles in front of the University of Manchester

On her arrival in Manchester, England she found a city quite different from what she initially expected. Her idea of England was made up of pictures of London, the countryside, and some estates from Jane Austen novels. She did not expect to wind up in a grungy city, covered in construction and dingy buildings. There also weren’t many red telephone booths. She knew she was going to a city, but she had not prepared herself for what she found.

Well, that girl was me. The day I arrived, I had not found what I—thought I—was looking for. The place was anything but what I thought I wanted: the university campus was more spread out, I was confused on where to go, and I was overwhelmed with what I was seeing. Overall, it was hard to face. Once I sort of settled in, I went to the mall in the area and got some necessities (and yes, I got lost getting there). After a couple days it was still hard to get rid of the expectations and ideas I originally had, but I wanted to move forward. Using what I learned from my experiences, here is my list on managing the unexpected while abroad. 

1. Take a deep breath.

You need to step away from your situation and the moment. Just focus on what you are doing now, not the rest of the trip or the remaining four months, but just what you are doing as it is happening.

2. Call a friend or family to reassure you.

I talked with my mom and one of my friends from back home. They both reminded me of why I was there and that it would get better once I got into the swing of things. My close friend told me to check out the area and to look for the old architecture and buildings that I was looking for. I am so glad I took that advice so that I could truly experience the beauty the city had to offer. 

3. Readjust your expectations (usually best to do before you arrive).

Before you explore, change your expectations. Things may not turn out how you want it to be, but they can still be good and wonderful. I had to accept the fact that this was where I was going to be. Once I did that, I got out of my comfort zone and tried to get to know the place and people around me.

4. Make time to explore and venture beyond the university or program.

After I spoke to my friend from back home, I explored Albert Square, which is in  Manchester’s old town area. Additionally, I explored the John Ryland’s library which was so unbelievably beautiful. I also went to the Northern Quarter which had a ton of quirky cafes, vintage shops, and record stores. I had found an oasis; it was a place where many of my interests resided, but I had not known about. I had judged Manchester too quickly and once I got to know it, it was really what I wanted and needed at the time. From then on I began to really love the place I was in. I looked past the initial impression and found things that I wanted to see all along. My greatest suggestion to you is to not lose hope and to never stop exploring.

5. Get to know people who live near you or are in your classes.

Although I found some cool places, it can feel lonely or odd without people to see it with. Make friends with people you live or study with. This way you will have people to share your experiences with and will be able to create even more!

6. Keep an open mind.

This is something I had to do throughout my whole program. I went to many beautiful sights, but they were often different from my expectations. Manchester aside, a lot of the things I did were not what I expected. I had to continually keep an open mind so that I could enjoy the moment.

7. Look towards the future.

Plan trips to get out of the place you are staying. Go to another city or country. Get a taste of other places. After I explored the main shopping areas and old buildings in Manchester, I went to London and then to Ireland! I really wanted to see a lot of the picturesque places and buildings that I had seen in pictures of England, like Big Ben and the London Eye. And the breathtaking landscapes of Ireland really drew me in. It was these trips and my earlier exploration of Manchester that helped me make the most of my study abroad experience. I was able to see and do a lot more than I would have if I had let my first impressions stop me.

8. Take time to list out and think about what you do like.

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A University of Manchester building

Lastly, take time to write down or look at pictures of what you do like and focus on those. I could never say that things will happen as you hope, imagine, or expect, but I am certain that you can make the most of any situation and experience. Just because things don’t happen in the way you expect, doesn’t mean they can’t still be amazing, often it turns out even better! I am so happy that I went to Manchester. It turned out to be a perfect fit for me. Odds are, the place you study abroad will be amazing, even if it doesn’t feel that way at first.


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