There are few things more exciting than getting ready to begin your study abroad program. As the day of my flight to Spain crept nearer and nearer, my excitement grew with each passing moment. I had painstakingly created a packing list and gingerly placed each item into my suitcase. I had read all the articles and blogs I could get my find about Spain, and even brushed up on my Spanish. But when I finally arrived in Sevilla, my city for the next 3 months, I felt overwhelmed about how to make this unfamiliar territory home. Fortunately, there are several things you can do to make the transition into your study abroad city smoother so you can make the most of your time abroad.
Settle into your new home
First things first, take some time to make your living accommodations feel like home. Unpack your suitcase so it’s ready to go for your weekend adventures. If you have a roommate, the first few days are a wonderful time to get to know them so you can tackle the challenges of adjusting to your new culture together. If you’ll be staying with a host family, bring them a small gift from home to help break the ice and get the conversation going. I’m from Louisville, Kentucky, so I brought my host family local candy and a book about the Kentucky Derby. Making new friendships and relationships is one of the best parts of studying abroad!
Once you’re settled in, go somewhere! You don’t have to have a plan or even know where you’re going. Simply spending some time wandering around your new town can help you gain familiarity with local landmarks. Don’t be afraid to get lost—you never know what you might find! My first night in Sevilla, my roommate and I went for a walk to the local park, El Parque de Maria Luisa, and we tried to take note of the location of pharmacies, grocery stores, and other resources we passed along the way that we might need later on.
Try the local food
Food is one of the best ways to get to know your host culture. Mealtimes are an excellent time to get to know new friends or meet some locals, especially in Spain, where a meal can last 2-3 hours! Try anything and everything, because even if you’re a little bit of a picky eater like I am, you might be pleasantly surprised! To find the best restaurants and cafes, avoid locations around major tourist areas so you can enjoy authentic cuisine.
Find out how you’ll be traveling around
Once you make it to your host city, you’ll want to do a little research to find out the best ways to get around town. In Sevilla, most people walk, ride bikes, or take the metro for everywhere within a 30-minute radius. Purchase your public transit passes so they’re ready to go when you need them. I’ve found that with a little bit of planning ahead, public transportation and walking are fabulous, healthy, and affordable methods of getting around! Pro-tip: take a practice walk to and from your new university so you don’t have to stress about it your first morning of class!
Continue to research your host culture
I did my fair share of research before I arrived in Spain, but I soon learned that the homework didn’t end there. It’s important to know as much as you can about your host culture so you can be sure to respect the local traditions and expectations. For example, my friends and I walked nearly a mile to a local ice cream shop only to find out that most stores and restaurants in Sevilla are closed from about 2:00-4:00 each afternoon so workers can go home to eat lunch with their families. Research can also take the form of observing the locals go about their day or chatting with your host family or program leaders about any questions you might have about the culture.
The first few days will without a doubt be a whirlwind of excitement and emotions. Though adjustment can be difficult and take time, be patient with yourself and take some simple steps to set yourself on the path to success. I guarantee that within a week or two, your new city will start to feel like home.
The world awaits…discover it.