Everyone reacts to studying abroad differently, especially during the crucial first days. While some can jump right in at full-speed, invincible in the face of jet lag, culture shock, language barriers, and new surroundings; others need some time to get comfortable. I am of the second sort.
My first five days have been a nonstop whirlwind of amazing sightseeing, great (and inexpensive!) food, miles and miles of walking tours, and challenging french classes and lectures. While I have already done more wonderful things than I previously thought humanly possible in only five days, I have also felt exhausted, sick, overwhelmed, and a little homesick at the end of the day.
Feeling a little weird at the start is totally normal, but here are five ways to make sure your first days studying abroad are as un-weird as possible:
- Remember socks
Forgetting to pack essentials for your comfort (like I forgot all of my socks) can really put a damper on your first days in your host country and distract you from the fun you could be having. It is important to make a list of everything you need to feel comfortable during the day and to triple check that list and your luggage before you leave so that all of your energy can go towards better things like scoping out the best panini stands and navigating the Champs-Élysées.
- Be social
Studying abroad is a lot like one big team-building exercise, except for the fact that it isn’t justifiably hated by everyone except camp counselors. Once you try to buy a complicated metro pass in a foreign country with someone, you are destined to become fast friends. This study abroad camaraderie takes work to foster though, so make sure you are spending as much time with your group as possible, even if you aren’t psyched about the activity. The first few days are key for bonding and you won’t want to miss out on the amazing memories, support, and laughs you can get from your study abroad friends.
- Get lost
The best way to get comfortable in a place is to get uncomfortable in it. Pop a map in your back pocket, or roughly plan out a route ahead of time, grab your new friends, and explore your neighborhood! This will help you get connected to your surroundings and your peers (which is the best way to prevent homesickness) and will also be helpful for finding hidden sightseeing gems the best (read: cheapest) shops and food around.
- Cross something off of your list
If you have a “bucket list” for your experience abroad, don’t procrastinate! It’s easy to tell ourselves “the Eiffel Tower will be there tomorrow, there’s no rush” only to find that time has flown by and we are 48 hours from boarding our flight and only saw the tower once out of a taxi window. So text those wonderful new friends, pull out that metro pass you worked so hard to get, and check off something new right away!
- Give yourself time
Lastly, remember that studying abroad is a never-ending transition from one way of life to another and that the beginning is one part of that transition that can be especially rough. If you are feeling overwhelmed, decide to give yourself a week to feel wonky and lost, then check in again after seven days. Luckily for us humans, adaptability is our thing, so you should be feeling ten times more equipped to handle your new life once you have given yourself ample time to get used to it. In the meantime, don’t hesitate to reach out to people that you trust for support and guidance.