Studying Abroad Survival Guide: Don’t Get Trapped in Your Blanket Cocoon
The following is a collection of our ideas and tips on how to counter the most common challenges and difficulties you as an international students are might going to face. Or to put it another way, for me personally, this would basically translate to how not to end up staying in my pj’s all day while being rolled inside a blanket like a sushi and watching my favorite drama. When studying abroad, we are all very likely to encounter one, if not all, of the phenomena and emotions described in this article. Yet, I believe that what truly makes a difference is how we decide to deal with those challenges. That is, whether we shut ourselves away or actively getting ourselves into this adventure instead.
Cultural Misunderstandings aka The Vicious Circle of Politeness and Toilet Dramas
Every culture has its often unwritten laws. When just having arrived at your study abroad destination, there is almost no way to be aware of all of them. So you will have to learn it the hard way! Embarrassment and humiliation included. But to be honest, those experiences make great stories to share at your next party. While the funny and awkward moments will ensure that you will learn from those mistakes fairly quickly. Which brings me to the main point of this article, toilet dramas are no joke. Clogging a public toilet at the metro station in the middle of Taipei because you were not aware of the fact that the toilet paper has to go into the bin next to the loo instead of actually inside it, can traumatize you for life. A nightmare that is sure to not letting you do “your business” in peace for the next couple of weeks.
Even when attempting to be culturally aware and polite, trying to finish off all the food your kind elderly host has provided, you can still run into big problems. That is to say, as soon as you pick up the last spoon of self-made beef stew with a feeling of achievement, a big smile on your face, and a tummy filled to the brim, the lady responds by grabbing the seemingly gigantic ladle to stack an even bigger pile of stew onto your plate. Setting off a vicious circle of politeness, as you are forced to keep eating, while your host feels the need to constantly refill your bowl with HEAPS OF MORE BEEF STEW.
When Homesickness Tries to Slap You in the Face
Fight back! Homesickness is certainly one of the most frequently met issues when it comes to studying abroad. However, when missing home and the people close to you, always remember that your loved ones are just a Skype call away. Many different apps and programs offer free video chats and therefore enable you to deliver your family and friends right into your living room. Besides, only when being abroad can you experience the incredible joy and excitement of having a care package delivered to you from back home! Including all the treats and sweets that you have been craving for during the last months and that might not be available at your study abroad destination (or if you do manage to find them at the supermarket, then often for ridiculously high prices!!!!). Having to pay about 5 USD for a bar of German chocolate still gives me the shivers every single time. While my favorite speculaas Christmas cookies are not easy to be found in general (although being Christmas biscuits, in Germany they already start selling them by the end of August, which totally attests for their awesomeness). So being able to have those snacks sent to you from your parents or friends from back home just make them all the more special.
Loneliness as an Opportunity?
Another issue that you might come across, particularly during the first few weeks of your stay abroad, is loneliness. But be assured that you are not the only one feeling that way. In fact, there are hundreds of other international students out there who are feeling exactly the same way as you do. Actually we discovered that partly due to this fact, it tends to be a lot easier to connect with new people and form new friendships abroad. This is because everyone is basically in the same boat. All of you find yourself in an unfamiliar, and perhaps seemingly strange, environment. So why not explore your new surroundings together and make lifelong friends at the same time? Furthermore, when it comes to befriending locals, you might notice that you will almost unconsciously step out of your comfort zone and open yourself up a lot more than you would usually do back home; for instance, initiating conversations with strangers. This represents one of the many benefits that studying abroad will bring.
Overall, keeping a curious and positive attitude is the best way to deal with challenges you might come across. After all, studying abroad will be a phase of life that you will someday look back upon with nostalgia. Even though those negative feelings cannot be completely avoided, don’t be fooled into burying your head in the sand. Actively engage with your new environment. In that way, time and experience will turn you into a person that calls multiple places on this planet “home”.