What is Imposter Syndrome?

Feeling like you don’t belong, feeling like a fraud, or doubting your abilities all fall under this. Though we all feel this way from time to time, the excitement and anxieties of studying abroad really amplify this feeling for many people.

Before You Go

Personally, I started feeling a bit like an imposter before I even stepped foot in my abroad location. I had planned on going to Florence, Italy, but made a decision — mostly on a whim and against the advice of many family and friends — to go to Bangkok, Thailand instead. My knowledge of Thailand was limited to Thai food and Instagram posts of elephants or long tail boats. Everyone I’d ever heard of who’d gone there were the most interesting, adventurous people I knew, and I just didn’t feel like I was in the same league as them. Put simply, I didn’t feel cool enough or strong enough or adventurous enough to study abroad in Thailand.

I knew I wanted to go, and I’d already made my decision; the application was approved, deposit paid — but a big part of me still felt like I’d never make it there. As it got closer to my departure date and I told more and more people my plans, I only became more anxious. Thinking about living in any other country, let alone Thailand, was so unimaginable to me, so it didn’t seem real. With COVID still a looming and grim shadow, I figured the trip would get canceled, pushed, or just not work out in some way.

But sure enough, I arrived.

A photo I took in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I’d only ever dreamed of seeing elephants this close.
The First Weeks

Settling into a new place, meeting new people, going to a new school; it’s all stressful and wonderfully exciting simultaneously. But mostly, it’s a time saturated with introductions. Boring sentences that start with “Hi my name is…” can make you miss home and your friends who you’ve grown so close with throughout college that you left to go abroad.

Inevitably, you get to the “Why did you pick here to study abroad” question and sometimes you’re not sure what to say. Or, when other people tell you their reason, you go back to feeling uncool and small compared to the adventurous people surrounding you.

I’ve always been afraid of sharks, but I got the chance to swim with babies in Koh Phi Phi and I took it.

Try to gain some perspective by remembering everyone else is in the same situation as you. You chose to go abroad to do something exhilarating and life changing, even though it’s uncomfortable. No one thinks they are the coolest, most well-adjusted person there.

Another aspect of imposter syndrome is difficulty in accepting your accomplishments. If you’re finally abroad and it still feels wrong, like it’s just not you, take a step back and appreciate the steps you’ve already taken. You moved to a new place, likely where they speak a language you don’t know, without knowing anyone. Take time to be proud of yourself and frame yourself in a new way: you are the person who is studying abroad that others at home will talk about, you are putting yourself out there and being adventurous. Even though it was tough, you did it.

This was one of my greatest moments in Thailand — hiking up to the Laotian border and speaking with Thai monks.

Bailee Esposito, University of Colorado, is studying abroad in Thailand with TEAN.