Studying abroad is often marketed as one of the most gratifying experiences one can have while in college. It cultivates an immersion of culture, language, education and independence. As beneficial as studying abroad is, diving head-first into a world of unknowns can understandably come with some anxiety.
In order to enjoy your time abroad, you’ll need to do some preparation before your trip and be mindful throughout. Here are four tips to help you get through.
1. Prepare for something to go wrong
When traveling, it’s dangerous to assume that everything will go perfectly — you need to be ready for mishaps. Instead of preparing for the perfect trip, prepare for a realistic one. Pack a change of clothes in your carry-on in case your luggage gets mixed up or delayed, and have some phone numbers saved in case there is an issue with your host family or dorm-mates.
Along with realistic expectations for your trip, it’s important to have realistic expectations for yourself. Your anxiety won’t behave any differently, and you’re going to have days where it will be harder than usual to get yourself out of bed for more than just class.
This is okay. If you need to take a day to stay in and recharge your social battery, do it. If you need to make plans for a quick coffee run instead of drinks later in the night, do it. Take your day. But if you’re feeling the same the next day, push yourself. Walk a few streets you haven’t explored yet. Go to a different park to do your work. Get dressed and go out for drinks, even if it’s for half of the time you normally would go for.
By pushing yourself, you minimize the risk of getting stuck in a rut, so encourage yourself to have fun with new people in new places.
2. Do research
To avoid an anxiety-ridden culture shock, try to immerse yourself in the culture before you get there. Research what a typical day looks like in your city, some basic words to use, general political opinions, how people dress and how expensive things usually are.
Additionally, do research on the physical location itself. Figure out which part of the city younger people hang out in, which parts to avoid and how to get around.
If you struggle with directions, looking at a map before traveling might be insufficient in helping you get around. Consider taking a guided tour of the city, which often breaks it up by neighborhood. Depending on your exchange program, your university may even run a tour for students.
3. Find a place outside of where you are staying that is just for you
Just like at home, it’s important to have your own space to do work or just let yourself breathe. Find a spot in the library, park or cafe near your apartment that you can frequent to feel safe and comfortable. The more you go to this spot, the less anxiety will be there, and it will become a place to disengage from life’s distractions for a while and be mindful. This is especially important if you are sharing a room with someone for the semester.
4. Stay in contact with loved ones at home
In order to avoid feelings of isolation while abroad, make sure to stay in contact with your loved ones back home. Schedule a phone call with your parents, best friend or significant other at least once a week, and make sure you have a texting app that works internationally, like WhatsApp, Skype or Facebook Messenger.
Social media is another great way to stay connected with home. Don’t use your phone all day, but scrolling through Instagram or Facebook before bed will help lessen your F.O.M.O. a bit and will help you stay in the loop.
Overall, handling anxiety while studying abroad is all about balance. Prepare to have good days and bad days. Make plans with new friends, but also take some time every week for yourself. Try something new, but don’t feel bad about a day in bed once in a while. Keep these tips in mind, and your experience abroad will be spectacular.