When I first got to Berlin, one of the most disorienting things was buying groceries. I know that sounds silly, but everything was different. I couldn’t find the foods I wanted, the store was laid out in such a strange way, and the cashiers asked questions in German that I didn’t know the answers to. I missed my almond butter, I missed superstores where you could buy everything in one fell swoop, and I missed being able to interact with the people around me while shopping. In that grocery store, I felt so alienated — I felt as if I would never acclimate to life in Germany.
Here are some study abroad tips that have helped me acclimate to life in Berlin, in hopes they’ll help you as you become comfortable in your host city.
1. Try to avoid comparing your life in the states with life in your new country.
It’s hard to live in a foreign country. Everything seems like fun and games until your daily routines are interrupted. Your initial reaction will likely be to think something like “In the United States I can do this!” or “I wish I was back home where things make sense!” These thoughts are natural, but try not to let them control how you view your new city. If you spend most of your time comparing your new lifestyle to your lifestyle in the U.S., you’ll only make yourself feel more like an outsider in your host country. Try and view everything as a blank slate, and be willing to adapt to the unexpected.
2. Stay open-minded when it comes to new experiences.
Try your best to keep your mind open to new experiences. If you’re like me, and your host city is the polar opposite of your home city, everything will be a new experience. This can be overwhelming, but it’s also the fun part of studying abroad! Drink some foreign coffee on your new commute to school. Find a new park or café every day to do homework at. Go to local social events like concerts or visit a museum. Don’t be afraid to do crazy new stuff, because that’s how you immerse yourself in the culture of your country.
3. Finally, don’t shy away from meeting new people.
Another important element of studying abroad is trying to socialize with people in your program and locals alike. If your school offers a tandem language learning program, go for it! If your program is offering a tour of a cultural spot, make sure to go. If there’s someone at a café who looks cool, try and talk to them! Putting yourself out there and making friends will help you feel as though your host city is a home city, and it will give you a support network for any discomfort you might be feeling while
Today, I know where everything is in my local grocery store (besides almond butter, but you’ve got to win some and lose some), I know what foods I like, and I know exactly what the cashiers are going to ask me, and how to respond. Now, when I leave Berlin to travel and I’m ready to go “home,” I find that I’m thinking of Berlin, and not my home in the United States!
When you first touchdown in your host city, your brain is fluttering with all sorts of sensations: excitement, nervousness, perhaps even a tinge of sadness at leaving home. Everything is strange, every place is new. It may feel as though you’ll never view your new place of residency as a home-away-from-home, but you’ll soon find that it’ll be hard to tear yourself away.