Apart from the incredible experience itself, one of the greatest aspects of a study abroad program is the friendships you form. The idea of being away from your friends and family back home is intimidating, but it does not have to be a bad thing.
Your fellow students:
It is a truly unique situation, finding yourself in a strange city with thirty to forty people you have never met but with whom you will be sharing this once-in-a-lifetime experience. You have to immediately trust and rely on one another as you navigate what is essentially a new world. Even if you have traveled before, maybe even visited your host city prior to the program, there will still be things that are new and strange, and trying to face them alone can be frightening.
Your fellow students are no longer just a group of names on a roster. This group of complete strangers suddenly becomes your family, whether it is for five weeks or an entire semester; they are your support system. Of course, you will not all be best friends, because this is real life, not “High School Musical.” But speaking as a life-long loner who generally does not make friends easily, I can promise that you will quickly come to love the people with whom you share this experience, and chances are you will make a couple lifelong friends. I know I have, and I have only been abroad one week. That in itself is an adventure worth having.
An important thing to keep in mind when going abroad is that not everyone socializes in the same way. You will find that there are many cultures in which people are not as open and outgoing as Americans. The Czech Republic is a perfect example; social norms and ideas of appropriate behavior and interactions in public are different here. But do not be discouraged or write the locals off as rude or unfriendly if you do not make friends in your host country right away. Keep trying; do not change or try to be more like them, but be patient and respectful and try to learn about them. A few phrases in the native language as simple as “hello” or “thank you” will go a long way, even if it is rough and halted. Ask your teachers for guidance; they have experience interacting with international students and can help you navigate social interactions in a constructive, supportive way. While making friends with other AIFS students, also try to travel in smaller groups when you can and visit local, less “touristy” restaurants and parks where you can observe the locals and have greater opportunities to meet them. Make a genuine effort, and people will appreciate it and respond accordingly. Find a happy medium between maintaining your American-ness and being respectful to your temporary home and its people.