About six months ago, I came to Germany not entirely knowing what to expect. Would classes be difficult? How would I make friends? Was my grasp of the language good enough? Was I truly prepared to live on my own in a different country for an entire year?
Questions like these floated around my head weeks prior to flying over to Hamburg and stayed there for quite some time. The truth is, it was not entirely easy making my way through a new city and university. At times, homesickness was definitely not an unfamiliar feeling, and at other times, I felt so overwhelmed and stressed. Nevertheless, I would have not traded this experience for anything, and I am so glad I decided to spend my sophomore year participating in an experience a bit out of my comfort zone.
Here are just a few pieces of advice and realizations I have learned since my arrival just six months ago, and I hope that, whether you are participating in a summer, semester, or year abroad program, this information will be helpful to you!
The beginning isn’t easy
Before I left for my study abroad program, a part of me believed that everything would kind of just fall into place. Sure, I did have anxieties about the program prior to leaving for Hamburg, but I thought that these doubts and fears would disappear quite soon after arriving. Unfortunately, I was in for a bit of surprise when I realized that those feelings didn’t actually go away all at once. The truth is, it may take a while to really settle in and feel comfortable and confident around your new city or university. I spent the first two or three months of my own program not only trying to navigate Hamburg, but also trying to meet new friends, familiarize myself with my new neighborhood, and soak up as much of the city as I could all while taking classes and trying to learn more German. While all of that sounds great and exciting on paper, there were definitely days where I came home exhausted, confused, and overwhelmed. Starting new beginnings can be stressful anywhere, but taking it one day at a time and remembering to give yourself breaks throughout the day is a good way to manage stress. Though it may take time, just know it gets easier as you familiarize yourself with the new city and the people within it!
Learn to be flexible
Being abroad, I think it is so easy to fall back into old habits or do things the way we would have done them back home. There have definitely been times abroad when I would make up excuses to not do things or was not one-hundred percent in love with plans other people had picked out. Nevertheless, I quickly learned that making up such excuses or deciding to not go along with something just because it isn’t the exact way you would spend your day usually only hinders your experience and makes you miss out on events you may have never had the chance to experience before. Now, I’m not saying to just blindly agree to everything, but if someone else recommends exploring a new town or city for the day or going to a museum you may have never visited yourself alone, I would say learn to be flexible and step out of your comfort zone. Learning to try new things and see new places is the best way to feel more comfortable in your new surroundings, and being flexible with plans can help you open yourself up to new opportunities or experiences.
Set reasonable goals
Finally, make sure you set reasonable goals for yourself while abroad. I think that it is really easy to do either too much or too little while abroad. On one end, it probably isn’t productive to overload on courses, even if you think this is the best way to make friends, as you may not have enough time to actually learn about the new culture. On the other hand, slacking off or selling yourself short may also lower your motivation or drive. All in all, it is important to find a solid middle ground in terms of how you will spend your time abroad both personally and academically. Goal-setting is an excellent way to keep yourself motivated and on track, and can help to push yourself in ways you didn’t know possible.
Regardless of if you are studying abroad now or planning to study abroad in the future, know that, even if it is completely terrifying to move to another country with its own cultural norms and differences, there is so much to gain from an experience like this.