What to Expect You’re Expecting…to Study Abroad!

Jessie Williams is a student at the College of Saint Rose and an ISA Featured Blogger. Jessie is currently studying abroad with ISA in Barcelona, Spain.

Blue Mosque

You’ve bought your tickets, called your bank, made your cell phone rental plans, and the wait is finally over. For the last couple months, studying abroad may be all you’ve been able to talk or think about. Now that you’re sitting at the airport, your fingers begin to tingle and you get a aching feeling in the back of your stomach. You’ve been so excited, but now you feel a waved mix of emotions, one of them being nervousness. You’ve prepared yourself in what seems like every possible way, but nothing quite prepares you for a life changing experience such as study abroad.

Whether you’re going for a year, semester, summer session, or traveling abroad before your program you should expect to get hit with international, earth-shaking, emotional, travel-associated bomb known as “cultural shock.” Here are a few tips on how to ease the effect of this inescapable aspect of travel:

1. Making assumptions isn’t always a bad thing

While traveling in Turkey before my program in Barcelona, I’ve had the pleasure of staying with my friend’s Turkish family. Having been my first time in Turkey, I had no idea about the language or the culture. Staying with a family who is native to the country you are traveling to is not at all like staying with a hotel with your own family. There are different customs that you must be mindful of. In Turkey for instance, it is normal for people to reach across the table rather than ask to pass food. In addition to this, the clothing style in Turkey is more conservative than most Western countries. Before doing something or saying something, consider the effects on the people around you. Take some time to observe. If you are unsure as to whether or not something you or say may be out of culture, feel free to ask. Asking will show that you care about adapting and immersing yourself in the culture.

P.S- It’s never to early to begin thinking about this! Even consider asking yourself what type of clothes you should wear on the plane before entering a more conservative country.

My early birthday celebration on top of a Turkish Castle, with my friend, Suzy, and her relatives.
My early birthday celebration on top of a Turkish Castle, with my friend, Suzy, and her relatives.

2. Overcoming the language barrier

When first traveling in Turkey, I had no clue how to say a single word of Turkish. My friend’s family only spoke Turkish, and very little English. Needless to say, I was in a rush to learn. If you have the opportunity, invest a few dollars into translation dictionaries. If you care to spare your money, feel free to educate yourself through the internet. Simple words and phrases that you may use in daily life such as “thank you”, “hello”, “how are you”, or “my name is” go a long way.

3. Come with a clean slate

Before coming to the country you are visiting, try to rid yourself of predispositions you may have. Also try to keep an open mind, and see the culture you are visiting as a new world. It is very possible that the way of life in the country you are visiting is very different than the culture you are accustomed too.

4. Give yourself some time to “disconnect”

Studying abroad and even traveling abroad is a big deal. There are many changes that you may experience which will seem overwhelming and may make you feel homesick. Give yourself some time (once you’ve let your parents know you’re okay of course!) away from cellphones and computers to get out and explore. If you can, reach out to others during your expeditions! The sooner you make friends and plans, the faster your transition will be.

5. Enjoy It!

Remember, you are having a once in a lifetime experience. Soak in every day, every moment, and live it to the fullest.

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