Student life abroad

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Adjusting to a New Culture, a Foreign Language

Student life abroad can be both nerve-wracking and exciting. After all, you’ll be speaking a foreign language and exploring a new culture. You’ll see new sites, eat new foods and learn about different traditions. But when none of the locals seem to understand a word you’re saying and all you crave is an American hamburger, try to remember why you’re studying abroad and take practical steps to adjust to life abroad.

Adjustment Stages for Student Life Abroad

Expect to experience culture shock when you study abroad. You’ll be encountering so much that is new and different, try not to get overwhelmed! At first, you’ll be excited. You’ve been preparing to study abroad for a while and are anxious to visit the attractions and meet the people. In the beginning, the differences between the US and the country where you are living will seem intriguing. After a while, you’ll be irritated and frustrated.

You could feel homesick. You’ll learn to cope by making friends, discovering student life abroad, and adapting to the country’s culture and traditions. If you live in the country long enough, eventually you could feel so comfortable that you won’t want to return home from abroad.

Preparing for Student Life Abroad

Skip some of the frustration by learning as much as you can about the student life and culture of the country where you’ll live abroad. You can’t eliminate all surprises – nor should you want to – but this will make adjusting easier and quicker.

Resist blaming an entire country or culture for a few inconveniences. Remember: If you wanted to do something simple, you wouldn’t have chosen to study abroad! Buses are late and computers malfunction in the US, too. Don’t overreact. TO APPLY

Making Friends Abroad

When you’re homesick it will be tempting to seek out other Americans and make only English-speaking friends. Speaking a foreign language can be tough when you’re still perfecting your vocabulary and accent. Practice with strangers and make friends with locals who are understanding and patient. This way you’ll learn more about the language and enlarge your social circle at the same time.

Don’t be shy. Talk to other students and get involved with student life abroad, either at the university or in the community. Try new things and ask plenty of questions. You’ll probably want to travel to nearby cities and sites on the weekends, but be sure to stay in your host city during some of your free days. Really be a part of the city and student life abroad. Don’t be just a visitor, an outsider looking in.

No matter how long you have studied a foreign language or prepared for student life abroad, you’ll have at least some difficulties adjusting to the culture of a new country. Part of the fun is overcoming these challenges and surrounding you with new ideas and new ways of life. Your ideas about American culture and traditions will grow and strengthen at the same time.

Core benefits of studying abroad

You’ve probably heard it before: study abroad is a life-changing experience. For many students, it’s the single most memorable experience in their university careers. Personally, studying abroad was a pivotal moment in both my personal and professional life and I know that I wouldn’t be where I am today without the seeds that my study abroad program planted within me.

1. Get to travel the globe

This is the most obvious benefit of studying abroad. Living in a foreign country while you’re in the university gives you access to travel and exploration like never before. Many programs have excursions and field trips built into them. If yours doesn’t, you’re likely surrounded by other studies abroad students eager to see the world, so you have travel buddies built-in from day one.

2. Expand your worldview

Living in a foreign country opens your mind to new perspectives and lifestyles in a way that simply visiting for a week or two cannot. You’ll find that your way of seeing the world will likely be challenged more than once. Some of your values will likely shift, while the ones that really matter will be solidified, and you’ll come out of it all a better, better-rounded person.

3. Impress future employers

Some might think that traveling and going abroad hampers your career when in fact it’s quite the opposite. When done in a way that advances your skills and teaches you new things, international experience is actually incredibly desirable in the current globalized job market. What better way to get that international experience than through study abroad?

4. Learn a foreign language

Speaking of impressing new employers, learning a foreign language can greatly improve your job prospects. Studying abroad allows for immersion, which is the most effective way to learn a language quickly. Demand for bilingual workers has more than doubled over the past five years, and it’s likely to continue increasing. It’s estimated that learning a foreign language will earn you, on average, a 2% “language bonus” on your salary throughout your lifetime, however, some more in-demand languages can earn double that. It might not sound like a lot, but compounded over your whole career, it will add up.

5. Learn communication with all types of people

Even if you only learn a few phrases or study in an English-speaking country, studying abroad greatly improves your communication skills. When I studied abroad, I had countless conversations that were made up largely of body language, interviews, gestures, and doodles on a napkin because I was trying to communicate with someone I didn’t share a common language with. While this is difficult, it was perhaps the most valuable lesson in effective communication I’ve ever had.

6. Give real-life context to your classroom learning

Many study abroad programs incorporate in-the-field learning experiences that enrich and complement your classroom learning. Imagine studying world history and then going to visit the Roman Coliseum with your professor, studying art and then visiting the Louvre, or taking a world religions class and then visiting Buddhist temples in Thailand.

7. Might save money on tuition

Even when you factor in travel costs, you may be able to actually save money by studying abroad. If you’re on a budget, look into direct enrollment rather than third-party study abroad programs that take care of everything for you. Also, consider countries with a lower cost of living if you’re studying abroad on a budget.

8. Make Lifelong Friends

Going through an experience as impactful as study abroad means you grow very close to your fellow classmates who are growing and learning along with you. People tend to find that the friends they make while studying abroad remain some of their closest lifelong friends.

9. Gain Confidence

Living in a foreign country on your own will give you a newfound sense of independence, even if you’re used to studying far from home. The process of figuring out how to live abroad — from learning how to use public transportation to ordering a meal in the local language — is one filled with self-discovery. That process helps you realize just how capable you are.

This is why so many students feel like a completely new person when upon coming home from a study abroad trip. The experience sets you up with an unshakeable sense of confidence and a new perspective on the world. This also translates to great leadership skills, which is likely part of why employers value study abroad on a resume.

10. Become a global citizen

Moving abroad to study for a semester or a year will connect you with the rest of the world in a way that’s hard to achieve from home. You’ll develop a sense of how people from other cultures think and feel on an individual level, but you’ll also build a deeper understanding of global issues and how events in the world affect countries on the other side of the globe.

Upon returning home, you’ll often find that stories in the news about faraway places that once seemed foreign and distant now feel more personal. You’ve been to and made friends who live in these places, and they’ve become like second homes. This process of connecting to foreign places and building empathy with people from other cultures will make you a better global citizen, which is a crucial part of living in a global society.