Making a Home Away from Home: Tips for Students Studying Abroad
Ask anyone who has studied abroad about their experience and they are sure to spout a wealth of funny stories and fond memories of friends made, cities explored and adventures had. Students lucky enough to pursue their studies abroad benefit from the fresh perspective of a new environment, a level of immersion critical for mastering a new language and the incredibly enriching possibility of combining travel and study. Many go on to consider it as one of the most stimulating and defining times of their lives.
But of course, leaving the routine comfort of home to move abroad isn’t all plain sailing. Fear of loneliness, language barriers and cultural differences often accompany the excitement and intrigue of this new chapter. The pressure to have a good time can feel overbearing when you’re 6000 miles from home, frantically searching for somewhere to live and without a friend fall back on.
However, whilst difficulties and low points are certainly inevitable, they don’t have to mar your time spent abroad. A few straightforward steps can be taken to transform the experience from something daunting to rewarding.
1. Dive in head first
So you’ve arrived at your new home, slept off your jet lag and unpacked your bags: what now?
When faced with the intimidating prospect of being alone in an unknown place, it can be all too easy to dive into bed, wack on a Netflix series and delay the moment in which you actually have to confront your new reality. But studying abroad is all about fleeing from one’s comfort zone, and the sooner we face the music, the sooner we can start having fun.
Now more than ever it’s important to leave our inhibitions at the door and get stuck in: taking a proactive attitude to meeting people, getting involved with local events and exploring the city will make a great difference to how quickly you feel settled. It may seem a little unnatural to the more introverted types, but making a conscious effort to chat away to anyone and everyone, or invite your new flatmate out for a drink will help you to build up a network of people in your new home. It’s also a good idea to join expat Facebook groups and follow local blogs and websites to keep abreast of what is going on in your new city. However you do it, pushing yourself to really make an effort is so important to getting the most out of time spent studying abroad, particularly during your first few weeks.
2. Don’t be afraid to spend time alone
It’s somewhat inevitable that the beginning of the study abroad experience will include a fair amount of time spent alone. In today’s internet culture of always staying connected, this is too easily viewed as a negative thing. RBut rather than resisting your newfound solitude and relying social media to fill the void, why not try relishing the opportunity to simply disconnect from others and get to know yourself a bit better? OIndeed, one of the best takeaways of the study abroad experience is the power to feel comfortable in one’s own company and recognise the difference between being lonely and being alone. Don’t be afraid to head to museums, cafés, and even bars solo—you never know who you might end up talking to.
3. Expect for things to go wrong
Adapting to life in a different country is by no means easy. In the process of frantically trying to find one’s bearings in a completely new place whilst navigating a language barrier and cultural differences, the chances are that something, somewhere along the way is going to go awry. Whether that means failing to get to grips with the city’s public transport, landing a fine and arriving two hours late to your first lecture, or offending someone with your very different sense of humour, every foreign student has a story of when things didn’t quite go to plan. The worst thing you can do in these moments is berate yourself for missing the mark or not having prepared better. Try to keep in mind that as well as being frustrating or cringe-worthy, these moments are formative and even important lessons in resilience and flexibility. The best thing to do is take a deep breath, try to find the humour in the situation, and relax in the knowledge that every mistake is an opportunity to learn and grow.
4. Don’t be too hard on yourself
Amongst all of the brilliant opportunities, new faces and great times to be had, there will be moments of homesickness and weariness— days when lying in bed with a tub of ice cream seems preferable to trudging around yet another art gallery with your new friends. Don’t beat yourself up for having times when being abroad and speaking in your target language feels more of a chore than ‘the best time of your life.’ It’s important to allow yourself time to rest, the city won’t disappear and your friends won’t forget about you if you have a day to yourself.
Have you studied abroad? What would you suggest for settling in?