The Study Abroad Effect…And How To Make It Last

Many of us who have left the country to explore a new place have experienced SAE, or what I call the Study Abroad Effect (or more generally, TAE, the travel abroad effect).

study abroad
UNSPLASH Alexis Brown

SAE, or Study Abroad Effect, curiously occurs the moment a traveler steps foot in his or her new destination, and lasts until he or she returns home. If you or a loved one have exhibited four or more of the below listed symptoms, you know what SAE is all about.

SAE Symptoms: 

“Oohs” and “ahs”:

You awe at virtually everything with sparkle in your wide-eyes, and the most everyday things fill your heart with wonder. You think public transportation in Amsterdam is so fascinating, and Euro coins are way cooler than boring American ones.

New found patience: 

You’re not easily irritated or hurried, and take your time in your daily encounters may they be explaining to the non-English speaking waiter what you want or asking for directions.

Confident independence: 

You bravely find your way home from your university, and plan out your trip to Morocco, all by yourself. You force yourself to overcome your homesickness, to speak a new language, and to adapt in all situations. 

Enthusiasm for meeting new people: 

You’re meeting people every day,  and can’t wait to take a weekend trip and try the little café down the street with your new friends.   

Positive justification:

Whether the line to see the view from the top of the Eiffel tower is stretching for blocks or your flight to Turkey has been delayed, you’re inclined to view your experience as all okay. You focus on the positive, and find the humor in whatever situation you’re in.

Feeling new and invigorated: 

Each day is new and exciting (with the exceptions of the ones that fall after a long night out), and your eagerness to explore and seize the day are irrepressible. 

Low levels of stress: 

You’re not stressing about money, getting a job, or anything but whether you’ll have tapas or cook your own dinner. Yolo, living in the moment, and making the most out of every minute are your default states of mind.


Withdrawals do occur—and frequently. You’ve probably felt these effects on yourself, or have probably witnessed it in a friend: the constant reminiscing, the “omg this totally reminds me of , the continuous babbling about that one foreign lover, and the perpetual longing for treats they just don’t serve in America.

Now take a good look over these symptoms. Do these sensations only occur because we’ve landed in a new, better destination? Or is it because we jump into these new and foreign places with a fresh, positive outlook and willingness to see the beauty in ordinary things?

These questions were prompted by a walk I took along the Embarcadero in San Francisco this morning. Born and raised in this city, there’s no doubt I love it, though in my mind, it’s always been my default, go-to, safe haven, not-as-exciting-as-abroad city. I have had my share of withdrawals here, annoying my friends with “I just want to go back…” and doting on my memories made abroad. But this morning, as I glanced over the Bay, I saw rows of boats rocking along the coast, with the rising sun reflecting on the water below. The view made my heart skip a beat, and I felt that rush—yes that same rush I felt on the Duomo, in Barcelona, on the Bosphorus Sea, in Ibiza—in my hometown!

Yes, many of the obvious joys of travel come from the novelty of a new destination. But a huge part of it is mental, and the kinds of attitudes we bring before starting a new journey affect how we interpret our experiences. All the qualities above, from the eagerness to meet new people to having low levels of stress to the ability to be awed, begin in our heads.  Maybe SAE isn’t an effect at all, and maybe it doesn’t have to be temporary. Maybe all the feelings above can be achieved again and again, no matter where you are. Well, that is, if you let them.

Desiree Constance Choy

Desiree is from San Francisco, California. She is an actress, known for 13 Reasons Why (2017), I Won't Give Up (2014) and Dreality (2016).

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