So You've Decided to Go Abroad. Now What?
How to navigate cultural adjustment.
Whether you're going abroad for a full degree or for a shorter amount of time, there will be some adjustments that you'll have to make to your new environment. What starts out as excitement may be replaced by shock, irritation, frustration, or exhaustion. You may find yourself longing to go home, but before you know it, you'll learn to acclimate to your surroundings and cultural cues. While "culture shock" or "cultural fatigue" is normal and mostly everyone will experience it, here are some ways that you can go about mitigating the effects.
Know the symptoms
Knowing is half the battle, and if you expect to face some level of cultural adjustment, you can prepare for it. There may be physical manifestations like changes in eating or sleeping. Emotionally, you might feel highs and lows that you aren't used to. Self-doubt, anxiety, depression, avoidance, withdrawal, and boredom may all be signs that you're experiencing this period of change. If at any point these symptoms become too much to handle, please seek professional assistance.
Learn and explore
Look for cultural guides (this link is one for the UK) to get an idea of what you're in for. Your program will likely feature some type of orientation and it's an excellent idea to attend. They'll go over the basics like transportation, local and national laws, banking, university rules and regulations, academic life, where to go for support, where to shop, and how to get a cell phone. Take the time to explore your city and maybe even the country where you are studying. Asking questions is a key piece of trying to appreciate different customs, though this can be intimidating. Make sure to make some local friends so you can ask for an explanation of anything you might not understand. Attempt to immerse yourself, but balance this out with time for reflection.
Talk to people
You're not alone! There will be other international students on campus. Some of your peers from your host country may have also studied abroad and know exactly what you are going through. Don't be afraid to share your feelings and experiences with others. There are dedicated teams for international students who will be able to help you. Most campuses will have mental health professionals for little or no cost. Universities offers multiple places to build communities and support systems: accommodation/living arrangements, courses, clubs and societies. Your friends and family back at home will still be able to provide a sense of stability. Modern technology provides an easy way to stay in contact, but try not to rely on them as a crutch or excuse to not get involved!
Take care of yourself
This can include everything from joining a student club or society to setting aside time to be alone. Make sure to eat well, exercise and rest. It's easy to let some good habits go while studying abroad, but it's vital to keep some of the same activities in your schedule to ease the transition. Bring some mementos with you to help decorate your space. This will help you establish your own individual area and the beginnings of your home away from home.
There is no expectation to fully adopt the culture in which you've been immersed. You'll love some parts and you'll likely dislike some aspects. In the end, you will be more resilient and have learned how to deal with cultural differences, which are essential qualities in the world today. Go ahead ? go abroad!