A semester abroad has the potential to be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. You’re guaranteed to visit beautiful landmarks, learn more about yourself, meet new people and maybe even snag an exotic pashmina or two! But such a big transition can also be intimidating and overwhelming. Happily, Ashley of History in High Heels is here to share nine strategies for preventing homesickness, culture shock and empty pockets. Read on for her worldly wisdom!
Save more; pack less.
Most students pack too much and don’t budget enough. A lot of unexpected opportunities—and expenses—accompany travel, and you don’t want an overstuffed suitcase or empty bank account to hold you back! Make an effort to save as much as you can before you depart from the States. Multiply what you estimate you’ll need by 1.5—you’ll thank yourself once you’re abroad!
Bring a bit of home with you.
I can’t tell you how nice it feels to have a couple comforts of home when you’re sick or having a bad day. I always bring along a supply of Advil, my favorite candy (Reese’s Pieces) and pictures of loved ones for my apartment.
Keeping in touch with friends and family while abroad is important—and, thanks to technology, easier than ever. Skype is a no-brainer, but I also love WhatsApp because it lets you send little voice recordings. This allows you to hear your loved ones’ voices on a daily basis without having to carve out a big chunk of time to video-chat.
Attempt to blend in …
While you’ll probably never be able to blend in completely (that’s boring in every culture anyway!), it is fun to let your new home influence and inspire you. I love taking fashion cues from chic Europeans and experimenting with different looks and styles. A bit of extra effort is always worth it—you don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb in sweats when everyone else is dressed up!
… but don’t be afraid to be a tourist.
As much fun as it is to try to blend in, remember that you’re not a local—and that that’s totally okay! The word “tourist” has acquired something of a negative connotation, but it’s important not to let that keep you from experiencing everything the country has to offer. See what you want to see and take the pictures you want to take, even if it’s a crowded “touristy” spot. (Everyone visits the Sistine Chapel for a reason!)
Take more pictures, especially of yourself.
The greatest souvenir you can bring home is a batch of amazing pictures. (A huge perk: They won’t add any weight to your luggage!) You never know for sure that you’ll have the chance to return, but you’ll always be able to revisit your precious memories through those photos.
Decide whether you’re going to immerse yourself in one culture or travel extensively.
Unfortunately, you can’t really have it both ways. During your semester abroad, you can either immerse yourself in one culture (learn the language, take a cooking class, explore the countryside, etc.) or spend all of your free time seeing as many countries and cultures as possible. Both options have pros and cons, and you should definitely weigh them before departing.
Attempt to learn the language.
Learning basic phrases goes a long way when it comes to making friends and connecting with people. You don’t need to be a linguist; you just need to try!
Adjust your expectations.
As Americans, we romanticize Europe and European travel. We want—and often expect—everything to be just as perfect as we imagine it to be, but that simply isn’t a realistic approach! Studying abroad isn’t all photo ops and gelato. Living and traveling in foreign countries can be mentally and physically exhausting. You’ll face inconveniences and different ways of doing things, which you may or may not agree with. You’ll often find yourself frustrated by a foreign language or culture. You will also likely have to learn how to travel in a group, and/or live with people you didn’t know beforehand. But remember: Such challenges will only enrich you as a person. A positive attitude goes a long way in dealing with difficult situations and making the most of your study-abroad experience.