Studying abroad is often the best time of people’s lives, at least I know it was for me! Last February, I traveled to Sydney, Australia to study abroad at the University of New South Wales. While this was one of the most unique and exciting times of my life, I would be lying if I said I did not have concerns about going abroad beforehand and even during my time in Australia. At Vanderbilt, along with many other schools around the country, Greek Life affiliation often plays a role in deciding where to go abroad and whether to even go abroad at all. I’m going to share some of my personal experiences as a Greek Life student abroad that hopefully will shed some insight for people in similar situations!
Concerns Before Studying Abroad
One big concern that Greek Life students often have before going abroad is feeling a sense of worry about leaving their comfort zone back at school and entering an entirely new dynamic. This is of course completely understandable, and I too shared a similar concern. Back at Vanderbilt, I was incredibly used to hanging around the same friend group and going through the same routine of getting food with my fraternity brothers, studying with my fraternity brothers, going out with my fraternity brothers, playing basketball at the rec with my fraternity brothers, and so on. It is completely understandable to feel anxious about abandoning this social dynamic for one in which you know essentially no one. I actually chose to study abroad with one of my best friends from my fraternity, and I know a lot of people tend to study abroad with a lot of people from their Greek organizations. I do not see anything wrong with this at all, because of course you want to experience new exciting things with your best friends. I would advise, however, that if you do choose to stick to going abroad with a bunch of people you already know then you are way less likely to experience new perspectives and meet new people. I think that was one of the best parts about going to Sydney last year for me.
On the flipside, one of my close friends and fraternity brothers chose to go to Vienna all by himself to improve his German skills. I asked my friend, Ekene, how this experience was for him: “I was very much nervous going in but ended up having the time of my life. Not only was the language unfamiliar, but I knew literally no one. Not a single person. I think this really forced me to mature and branch out. I met people from all over Europe and met some pretty interesting people. I was fortunate though that I was in Europe, because I was able to meet up with some of my friends a couple of times. I think going with people you know is awesome, but going alone is something I would very much look into.”
My Time Abroad: BBS (Brown Boy Squad)
Once I got to the University of New South Wales, I noticed immediately a vast difference in the way people interacted with one another. People were super open with one another and very welcoming. The dining hall consisted of a few long tables, forcing everyone to interact with one another regardless of if they knew each other. It is no secret that Greek Life often creates a cliquey and exclusive culture, but I had never been a part of a different college experience firsthand.
While I was abroad, I was fortunate enough to have made a very tight knit group of friends. I originally hung out with my fraternity brother and a few kids from Vanderbilt that I knew before, but as the time progressed I came to know many more people. Since I lived in residential dorms, the school did a great job of holding social activities that allowed me to meet people from my dorm and those around me. I was definitely a bit intimidated at first and it was a big adjustment coming from having a big group of friends back at Vanderbilt to knowing virtually no one at a giant school in a foreign country. Nonetheless, I ended up becoming super close to a group of guys that I am still close to now. I was essentially “initiated” into the Brown Boy Squad, or BBS. I found this pretty funny because it reminded me a bit of my fraternity back at Vandy. I had essentially the same feeling of belonging and had a big group of guys I could always count on to grab a bite with me or pick up a FaceTime call when I would be literally within a 50 feet radius of them. The bond and dynamic is obviously different when comparing BBS to my fraternity, but the core friendship was very similar. While Greek Life definitely facilitated some strong bonds and great memories at Vanderbilt, I learned that having different types of friends is a pretty cool experience.
Potential Questions and Concerns
What about dues?
I know some people going abroad may have concerns regarding logistical things, such as paying dues and needing to take a leave of absence. With my fraternity specifically, I know none of the abroad guys have to pay dues or take a formal leave of absence. I understand the situation is different at every chapter and campus, but I would just suggest discussing any concerns prior to going abroad with your exec members.
Did you experience FOMO while abroad?
Like many others, I very much experience FOMO, or fear of missing out. I know there were a few big events that I really wish I was able to attend while abroad, such as formal. However, I would absolutely advise you all to not let this influence your decision to go abroad too much. FOMO is natural, but I can guarantee you that the experiences you will have abroad will be unmatched back home.
Did you keep in touch with people back home?
Unfortunately the time difference in Sydney was drastically different as I was nearly a full day ahead. Nonetheless, I made an effort to stay in touch with my family and friends because I think that is still very important. Although it was hard to find times to Facetime or talk on the phone, I definitely kept in touch through Snapchat and Facebook.
Ali Makhdoom is a student at Vanderbilt University and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia in 2017.