As exciting as studying abroad is, it can be overwhelming, frustrating, and even scary. It might be your first time traveling alone, or even your first time leaving the country. You might be throwing yourself into a completely new place where you don’t speak the language and culture shock is around every corner. During my time in Germany, I realized that having something to comfort myself with during difficult moments was important. After all, we all want to believe that we’re brave enough to handle anything, but a little personal reminder never hurts when we get to doubting ourselves. That’s why I’ve come up with ten personal mottos and mantras to tell yourself throughout your time abroad—although making them a part of everyday life is definitely encouraged!
1. “I’m going to learn something new today.”
Which you absolutely are. I studied in Berlin for three weeks, and every time I stepped out of my apartment for the day, I knew that I would come back knowing something I didn’t know before. Whether I was learning about foreign politics in my class, maneuvering the maze that is German public transit, or interacting with someone from another country, I was constantly learning, and when you’re in a new place that might be strange to you, you’ll also be learning.
2. “I’m not alone here.”
Through AIFS, I met people from all over the United States, and made friendships that have lasted long past my return home. Whether it was them, my Regional Director, or the friends I made through the university, I knew that my homesickness and confusion could be fought with a friendly conversation or a trip into the city. You’re facing something new, but you’re surrounded by people who are in it with you, and remembering those shared experiences really helps you bond.
3. “I’m ready for this.”
There’s a lot of preparation that goes into studying abroad, and when you step on the plane and take off, the payoff begins. It’s easy to feel as though you don’t know what you’re doing, especially when the language and cultural barriers show up, but it’s important to remind yourself that you planned for this, and that you can figure anything out.
4. “It’s supposed to be different.”
On the other side of the ‘I’m ready for this’ coin is the fact that no matter how prepared you are when you arrive in your study abroad location, you don’t know what living there is like yet. That’s a good thing, believe it or not—one of the greatest benefits of studying abroad is the fact that you’re experiencing life in a nation besides your own, and you won’t learn if you don’t feel any different. I often reminded myself to embrace confusion, because if I didn’t have questions, I wouldn’t have discovered the answers.
5. “I’m not a tourist.”
Because you’re so much more than that. You’re a student, an adventurer, and an explorer, and you took a huge chance by stepping out of your comfort zone and studying abroad. You deserve to give yourself some credit and remind yourself that even though being a tourist is a lot of fun, you’re doing more than just visiting a place—you’re living there, even if it’s only for a little while. Not only are you seeing the country, you’re being in it.
6. “Be in the moment.”
I’m not saying don’t take any pictures—when I got home, the camera on my phone was a sight to see! But some of my most vivid memories involve how I felt, what made me laugh, and what epiphanies I had about myself and the world. When something brings tears to your eyes or pulls at your heartstrings, I promise that you’ll remember that moment when you’re remembering what it was like to study abroad. Let yourself feel those things.
7. “Try it.”
Are you looking at a strange new food, being invited to a local sporting event, or wondering if you should drop by that museum that kept popping up in all the guidebooks? Go for it! One of the best things you can do abroad is live like the locals do, and when you have those once-in-a-lifetime chances, you’re always more likely to regret not doing them than you are to regret doing them.
8. “Bring home more than things.”
Some highlights of the suitcase I unpacked when I got home from Germany include a poster featuring crosswalk signs around the world, a jersey from Berlin’s hockey team, and a collection of famous German chocolates for my mom. I’m very proud of those things. But I’m far more proud of the things I didn’t unpack—the memories, the lessons, and the newly awakened desire to travel everywhere I can. Make sure to count those less material things in your collection, too—they’re just as important!
9. “I’ve got this under control.”
You won’t always feel like you do. You’ll miss the bus, or mess up ordering food, or feel like you should just pack up and go home. Even though you can’t control what happens around you, you can handle anything your study abroad experience throws at you, and you can control both how you respond to things and what you take away from them. The theme of this post is treating everything as a learning moment, and when you’re studying abroad, it’s an open-minded attitude and a sense of self that will help you stay on your feet.
10. “Every moment is an adventure.”
I saved this one for last because I think it’s the most important thing to tell yourself. Studying abroad becomes the most rewarding when you find joy and fascination in even the most mundane things. When you look for the differences and similarities that make up a culture besides your own, that’s when you really come to realize what your experience is teaching you, and that’s when you become the most interested in the world around you. There’s a lot of adventure to be had—go find it!