Image from Stocksnap.

Studying abroad may sound like one giant dream—you get to study in a cool place, travel to other cool places, and generally do cool things. It’s easy to forget that first part of study abroad: study. Despite all of the fun that comes along with studying abroad, you are still in school. In fact, school is the reason why you’re in a foreign country.

The first part of the semester, it was really easy for me to forget this. Except for one class, I didn’t really have “homework” in the traditional sense of essays and studying for quizzes. Instead, I just had a lot of reading. This wasn’t bad as I was traveling four or more hours a weekend and could do the reading on the go. And, often, the reading wasn’t even assigned over the weekend, but during the week. So twenty pages of reading a week? Easy enough to handle.

Three exams, two presentations, and two essays in one week? Not so easy. Welcome to midterms.

And this wasn’t just my schedule that led to this. Others had much more. Others had much more all due on the same day.

At my home campus, you might have about the same amount, but there just felt like there was something different about midterms abroad. At home, there seemed to be awareness by the professors that the students took other classes. Even though there was no possible way for all of the professors to communicate every students’ schedule, they were aware that we took three other classes, so having an exam, presentation, and paper due for one class was not something they would ask. They would require one, maybe two of those. Now, having one class that did that would be awful enough, but when all of them do? That’s just torture.

And to make everything worse? We had a week off right afterwards, so we were also stressing out over packing and travel arrangements. Also, most of the assignments were only given a week in advance, so there wasn’t much planning ahead that we could do.

So, basically, our castle home looked like a post-apocalyptic scene with people in pajamas wandering the halls at weird hours of the night with only coffee and the fear of failure sustaining them. To say the least, we were all miserable.

Should we have expected this? Probably. Not everything could be sunshine and reading forever, and I think most of us knew that. But when midterms hit we realized just how easy we had had it and why that was a horrible thing: we had no idea if we were on the right track. You could think you understood a concept completely in class, but if your knowledge was never tested, you may never have realized that it wasn’t quite right—and that happened a lot during midterms. We suddenly found out that we didn’t understand the material as well as we thought we did.

Who’s to blame? Everyone…and no one. If we paid attention more could we have understood better? Maybe. If the professors made sure we understood would we have scored better? Probably.

However, unfortunately, neither of those things happened and we suffered through midterms with lots and lots of coffee and tears. And a sudden realization that we actually do go to school, despite living in a fairytale of being abroad.

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