What I Learned from the Not-So-Glamorous Side of Study Abroad

Dec 15, 2019 9:24:00 AM / by Ellie LaFountain

In this week's blog from Dublin blogger Ellie, she discusses some of the topics that do not come up as much in conversations about studying abroad, including culture shock and other frustrations. These experiences can be great opportunities for learning and growth, even if they do not always seem that way in the moment.

Hello everyone!  In today’s blog I will be discussing the not so glamorous parts of studying abroad.  I think that sharing the challenges that I, and many other students, have been through these past three months is just as important (if not more) as sharing all of the awesome memories and moments with you.  My goal in this blog is definitely not to scare you, but instead to help prepare you for some issues that could arise! Enjoy!

It is rare for one to hear a negative thing about studying abroad.  And trust me, these past three months have been so amazing; I am so thankful for all that I have been able to do and all the amazing places I have been able to see.  However, a few of my CAPA friends have approached me in the past and asked if the blogs ever discuss the harder parts of this process or the things that are not so fun and exciting.  I thought about this for a bit and realized that they were right! I hadn’t really talked a lot about my frustrations these past few months and I think a major reason for that is because I have felt so lucky and blessed to even be here, that it just doesn’t seem right to “complain” about anything.  I often try to make the best out of any situation, so I tried to look at most of my frustrations or misunderstandings as learning experiences rather than a “bad” experience. Below I will share with you some of my own, and many other CAPA students “not so glamorous” abroad experiences.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Dublin_Ellie LaFountain_RainyDaysThere were some days when the rain just never seemed to let up. This was hard for me sometimes, but it made the sunny days so much more special.

The Stress of the Unknown

As I discussed in previous blogs, the process of actually getting abroad can be a lot.  From the application process to the day I arrived in Dublin, there were a lot of times where I felt stressed and nervous about many aspects of the semester.  I worried about how the classes would be abroad, where I would be interning, how heavy the workload would be, who would I be living with, how would I get around Dublin, and many more things.  It can be hard to have so many unknowns in your life since we are now so comfortable with our U.S universities’ ways of doing things. However, I tried my best to embrace these unknowns and instead of stressing about how things would fall into place, I tried to remember that it would all work out the way it was supposed to, and I worked to transfer that stress into excitement!


Money can be a difficult thing to talk about, but I know from my time here that it is something that many people think about often while abroad.  I know that for me personally, I worked and saved a lot before coming abroad. I knew that I wanted to feel secure and not worry too much about spending while in Europe, so I was sure to have a set amount of money allocated for the semester.  I am also aware of other students that budget EVERYTHING, and do a great job at keeping tabs on what, when, and how they spend their money. From my experience here, I have heard a lot of people worry about money and their spending, which was not a big surprise to me.  Even I had a minor freak out early on in the program when a bunch of friends and I were comparing how much we had spent and I realized how much more I had spent than everyone else. In this moment I became quite self conscious and worried about my spending, as I was so confused and shocked by the large amount of money that I had gone through in such a short amount of time.  Luckily, after speaking to my parents I realized that a majority of the money I had spent was on plane tickets for future trips that my friends had yet to book. I was kindly reminded by my parents that I had worked and saved so much this summer for exactly this purpose: to spend! I felt a lot better after discussing these “money issues” with my parents rather than comparing my situation to those of other students.  It is important to recognize and realize that no two people are in the same situation.

Money can also become a slight issue when it comes to going on trips with a group of people.  Often times, we are forced to pay for meals and activities together on one check or book housing on one person's credit card.  Venmo is a great app which can help you to pay your friends back, however there are some issues that can arise with this.  Firstly, since Ireland uses euros, we realized early on that it was necessary to convert the charges to USD to avoid an unfair exchange.  In addition, many times on busy trips it can be easy for people to forget how much money they owe, or that they owe anything at all. This can obviously cause some tension among friends, as it can feel awkward to ask someone for money, even if it is money that you are owed!  I know that several of my friends just let some things go to avoid having awkward conversations during the trips. One way we learned to combat this from happening was using apps like KiddieSplit and SplitWise. These apps help you to track purchases as you go on the trip and keep balance records to make sure you can “settle up” all at once, accurately.  Although this app still forces you to have some conversations about money, and pushes you to think about it often, it is quite helpful in making sure everyone pays the right amount. I would highly recommend using these apps on trips with friends.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Dublin_Ellie LaFountain_FriendsI loved travelling with friends, especially Mackenzie! We learned throughout our many trips together how we travelled best together and how to make sure little issues wouldn’t arise.

Culture Shock

Culture shock is something that I had learned about before studying abroad, so it was something I was prepared for.  For those of you that do not know, culture shock is one of the phases one might go through while living in another country, it is preceded by the honeymoon phase and is followed by adjustment and mastery.  I did not think that I would really feel the effects of culture shock; a sense of frustration, confusion, disappointment and anxiety due to differences, because I feel that I am quite adaptable and open minded.  There was however a time, a few weeks into the program where I began to feel the effect and felt like almost everything was going wrong. Even though now, looking back, I realize the things that were bothering me such as; the Dublin bus being late, hair straighteners breaking, paying for water at restaurants, miscommunications with clerks and servers, and the gym I use being so busy at the only time I could go, were all quite small and minor issues.  Because I was aware that many of the things that were annoying me were actually not that big of a deal, I was able to work through these frustrations and remember the bigger picture. In these times I tried to think back to what I would be doing if I was home in the U.S, and how I was so lucky to be learning so much not only about Ireland and Europe, but about myself as well.

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Dublin_Ellie LaFountain_DublinBusI am so thankful to CAPA for providing us with a LeapCard that enabled us to use the bus system.  Sometimes however it seemed like they were never on time! This is something I learned to cope with over time.

Through all the times I was frustrated or annoyed, I was able to realize just how much I was accomplishing while abroad and how independent I had become.  I am proud of not only myself, but my fellow CAPA students as well for embracing the sometimes odd situations that we were put in. I am proud of us for making the most of the rainy and cold days, embracing the sometimes awkward and difficult conversations with friends, and accepting all the things that we could not, and did not need to change.  I always knew while here that I had someone to talk my frustrations through with, whether it was a friend, parent, or CAPA staff member. I feel so lucky and thankful for all the study abroad was able to give me, as I know that I have become a stronger and better person because of it. 

CAPAStudyAbroad_Fall 2019_Dublin_Ellie LaFountain_GymI loved working out at this gym, but sometimes it would be so full there would be absolutely no space for me.  This just helped me to realize that I needed to make a set schedule on when I should visit. 


Thanks, Ellie!

Ellie LaFountain


Ellie LaFountain is an official CAPA blogger for fall 2019, sharing her story in frequent posts on CAPA World. A Media & Communications major at Ursinus College, she is studying abroad in Dublin this semester.

Ellie's journey continues all semester so stay tuned.

Learn More about the CAPA Dublin Program

Topics: Dublin, Ireland, Why Study Abroad