You made it! Your ticket is booked, your bags are packed, and you’ve checked about a hundred times to make sure you have your passport. Your study abroad adventure is about to begin! While so much excitement surrounds your journey, you’ll likely have some worries on your mind: Will I get there okay? What if the airline loses my luggage? What if my debit card doesn’t work? Not to mention the concerns you’ll have about studying abroad once you arrive in your new home: How will I deal with homesickness? Will it be hard to adjust to a new culture? What if I don’t make any friends?
The good thing is, you’re not alone. These concerns are completely normal! Whether you’ve traveled to thirty countries or have never left your hometown, chances are you’ll feel some type of displacement or stress as you settle into a new place. After all, you’re leaving behind everything you know, going far from home for perhaps the first time, and immersing yourself in a culture and way of life that are probably completely different from what you’re used to.
Here are five common concerns about studying abroad and tips for how to deal with them.
1. I’ll Miss My Family and Friends At Home
Yes, you probably will. Four months is a long time to go without hugging your parents, talking face-to-face with your friends, and snuggling with your dog. Even if your loved ones are planning to visit you while you’re abroad, it’s certainly not the same as being home with them.
If you find yourself feeling homesick, try to focus on all of the new experiences that you’re having so that you can share them with your loved ones. Family and friends are only a phone call or FaceTime away, and you’ll want to have a lot to share with them about studying abroad when you do get to talk to them! Intentionally seeking out new experiences is a surefire way to take your mind off your homesickness.
2. I Won’t Like the Food
Your eating habits are almost guaranteed to be different while you’re abroad. Make it a goal to try each dish in your country’s traditional cuisine at least once. Try to remember that tasting the food is part of fully experiencing your new home! Even if you consider yourself to be a picky eater, there will be plenty of dining options in your city. If you have access to a kitchen, grocery shopping and cooking for yourself is a great way to eat your favorite foods while saving a little money. And if you’re really worried, it’s not a bad idea to pack a few portions of your favorite American snack in your luggage to have when you’re really craving comfort food.
3. I Won’t Make Any Friends
Your ability to make friends while abroad is definitely a valid concern, especially if you’ve come on your own and don’t have any friends from your home university with you. The good news is, most people in your program are in the same position! I was surprised to hear how many people shared my concerns about making friends during the first few weeks of the program, but in a couple of weeks I felt like I had found “my people!” It probably won’t happen immediately, but make sure you’re putting yourself out there and getting involved in the activities that your program has organized in the first few weeks of the semester.
The first person you meet doesn’t have to instantly become your best friend — you’re bound to meet people who you like but don’t become your closest friends, and that’s okay! Most importantly, be yourself — if you’re authentic, you’ll gravitate towards the people who are meant to be your friends.
4. Something Will Happen to My Passport, Debit Card, etc.
The best way to alleviate concerns like these is to be over-prepared! Make sure you have a couple of copies of your passport with you, and only carry small amounts of cash on you at a time. It’s also a good idea to invest in a passport wallet, which you can wear under your clothes to keep your most important cards safe. As long as you’re very careful, you shouldn’t have any problems! The good news is, the AIFS staff is always on hand if you have concerns or need help.
5. I Won’t Be Able to Adjust to the Culture
Figuring out how to navigate a new culture and way of life is one of the biggest challenges for anyone who is studying abroad! I was not used to using public transportation, so figuring out the system and orienting myself in the city has been difficult. In addition, I wasn’t sure how people act in public in Prague compared to the United States. The first few weeks, I was way too concerned about being spotted as a tourist or foreigner when I was in public. To alleviate fears like this, it’s best to just embrace the fact that you’re in a new place and try not to worry about how the locals view you. Chances are, they are too busy to even notice. It’s always a good idea to learn a few words or phrases in the host country’s language—this may make people more friendly and help them open up to you, which could help alleviate fears about interacting with locals.
No matter what concerns you have about studying abroad, it’s most important to remember that you are not alone. Everyone in your program is probably feeling similar things, and it’s okay to talk about it! Also, you’ll be here for a whole semester—something is bound to go wrong at some point. It’s important that you know where to go if you need help, and to be able to pick yourself back up and keep going when you hit the inevitable bump in the road. Studying abroad is a process, so embrace it—even the challenges.