I believe abroad experiences are amazing and if possible, every student should participate in one…. a slightly biased opinion. Some students are apprehensive to do so because of the uncertainty of living in another country for an extended period of time. They plague themselves with worries like “what if I don’t like it?”, I don’t know enough of the language to survive, will I like the food,” and a laundry list of what-ifs. I have studied abroad a few times during my Rollins College career. So my advice is to put your fears aside and go already. To make the adjustment easier, here are some no-fail tips.
Preparation is key! No matter how much information you have been provided with, studying abroad is an individually unique experience for each person. No two trips will be the same. What are you going to bring to make life away from home your new home? Pack light but remember key items that you feel like you could not live without or a comfort candy that probably won’t be available to you abroad. Know that you are going to shop and you will need space in your luggage.
Do your research. I would recommend talking to someone who has been to that area, lived in that country or participated in the program before you. The valuable information the person shares will make your trip easier and give you insight that is applicable to your situation. Just the same, read a guide book. Get a different perspective of your country, the people, culture and sites. The Office of Multicultural Affairs is a great resource! They have cultural organizations that are a wonderful place to practice language skills, learn about other parts of the world and become accustomed to different cultures. They even offer training sessions throughout the school year.
Document your trip and your learning curve. For me, it’s writing and taking pictures. Studying abroad is a great way to experience massive amounts of personal growth in a short period of time. This could be as simple as writing a paragraph in the native language before and after your trip. Look at how much you have learned. Look at a map and see how many streets you’ve navigated. By the end of your trip, that map won’t be needed anymore.
Find your social network. Culture shock can be overwhelming and when it is, know where to turn and who you can talk to. Your program director and your fellow travelers are great for supporting you during this adventure. Remember that your worries today will be something you laugh at when you get back home. Don’t let a few tough days ruin your experience.
Most importantly, be open! This is not your home country and this is not the life you are used to, but remember you have made a decision and you should make the most of every opportunity. Taste each new food, attempt conversation in the native language no matter how bad your skills are and journey to interact with the locals. The worst part of studying abroad is regretting not doing something AFTER you have left.
Remember that a smile is universal! Get out and do something new every day. Before you know it, your study abroad stint will be over. Make the most of it any chance you get.