Getting ready (mentally) for study abroad

Leaving your home campus to continue your studies in a foreign country can be an exciting opportunity. But as with any new situation, that excitement can also come with some questions: what if I can’t make myself understood? What if the classes are harder than what I’m used to? What if I get sick so far from home?

First of all, know that feeling anxious about this transition is completely normal. Even if you’ve been dreaming of studying in a foreign country since you first enrolled in university, there can be some understandable stress the day you actually lock in your plane ticket and your dream becomes a reality.

Meet those fears head on!

You are about to embark on one of the most life-changing adventures you’ll ever have. The more you know about what’s ahead, the better prepared you will be to embrace this experience. Here are some ways you can prepare the groundwork for a successful study abroad experience:

Create or join a Facebook group. Something like ‘Anglophone students attending the Sorbonne’ can attract tons of like-minded new friends who could become valuable resources for your questions and concerns.

Contact students who have attended the programme you are going on and who are now back on your campus. They will be more than happy to share their knowledge of the coursework, the city, the great places to hang out and the places you’ll want to avoid.

Do your research, but leave things open to chance. You can read all the student travel books, Google all the city guides and learn as much as you can about the country you will be studying in... but leave room for surprises.

Expect the unexpected! You will soon be in a culture which is not your own. You can’t know everything about it beforehand, nor should you want to. You are going abroad to shake things up, get out of your routine, challenge yourself outside of your comfort zone. Leaving the door open to the new, the different and the unfamiliar will help you keep a cool head as you transition into your adopted culture.

Know what to expect

A successful study abroad experience is built upon many things, including safe and comfortable housing, coursework which interests you, and new friends who will help integrate you into the local life. It’s all so exciting and amazing at first! But after a bit, the newness which so enchanted you during the first months can start to wear on you. It’s helpful to expect that the high mood you experienced when you first arrived will drop and that there will be a period of time – typically three months after you arrive – where you feel a bit down and frustrated. The time it takes for you to put together a sentence in your new language, the unfamiliar teaching methods, the discomfort you experience when doing something as simple as doing your food shopping... all of these frustrations can add up and make you feel a sense of alienation and longing for things to be ‘like they are back home’. Expect this and ride it through. Your mood cycle will swing up eventually and soon you will find a new balance, enjoying the rich educational experience which study abroad offers.

Tags: france, united kingdom, spain, italy, study, abroad, preparation,