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Nate Nault, StudyAbroad.com’s study abroad student expert and editor of The Study Abroad Blog, partnered with StudyAbroad.com to create the Study Abroad Student Guide.
So you just stepped off the plane in
a foreign country and you have no idea what to do. Your first step should be to
take a deep breath. If you prepared ahead of time, as recommended, you will
already have some sort of transportation waiting to take you from the airport
to your host school.
Look for people you know who are going to be in
the same program, then immediately go find whoever it is that is supposed to be
picking you up after you get your bags. They’re probably holding a sign with
your name so they shouldn’t be that hard to find, or if you’ve organized
transportation through your host school, there’s probably a group of students
from your school wearing bright colored t-shirts that scream “I’m here to help
because you have no idea what’s going on”.
Take full advantage of the ride to school if you
can. After the long transatlantic trip, a lot of people fall asleep, but in my
mind that’s a bad idea. You should try your best to stay awake for this part of
your trip as this is going to be your first taste of your new home for the next
semester or year. Take it all in – your first impression is one of the many
things you’ll never forget.
While it’s almost always the case that you will
have some sort of orientation during your first week at your new school, how
that orientation is run will vary from school to school.
During my orientation week at the University of
St. Andrews, I only had one mandatory event to attend, and that was class
advising and selection. The rest of the orientation events pretty much revolved
around getting acquainted with the social scene, both on- and off-campus:
class/ color wars, table quizzes, the Bop (UK equivalent of a techno rave),
etc. I urge you to take full advantage of these night time festivities. This is
where you will meet the bulk of your new friends, especially if you live in a
dorm or hall and they sponsor an in-house event.
My orientation at CET in Beijing, China was
completely different. Because Beijing is such a large city, there were a lot
more logistical things we had to take care of, and because the program is an
intensive language program, a good portion of the week was getting us placed in
the right proficiency level and preparing us for class. We were up every
morning by 9:00 a.m. so enjoying the nightlife into the wee hours was a rare
By the way, you’re probably going to spend a lot
of money that first week. Most students make this mistake when they first go
abroad because they’re still in “vacation mode”. Your spending will drastically
reduce after this first week is over, and the realities of classwork, study and
day-to-day living set in.
Somewhere in the first two weeks or
so, there will also probably be some type of sports and/ or activities fair.
This is your chance to integrate part of your life back home with your life
abroad. Do you like to play basketball? Volunteer? Play chess? Whatever it is
you do, try and find a team or club that relates to your interests. This is
another area where you’ll meet tons of new friends. Maybe you want to try
something new. At St. Andrews there were over 120 clubs (not including sports)
ranging from beer tasting and wine and cheese socials, to sewing and
volunteering club…you name it, it existed.
The best part is, in just about every country
other than the U.S., sports and clubs aren’t quite as involved meaning you
don’t have to be an expert athlete to join the cricket or korfball team (look
them up, they’re good times). So don’t hold back. It’s likely that more you get
involved, the more attached you will feel to your study abroad program and the
other students who are a part of it.
On somewhat of a serious note, be prepared for
culture shock. Accept the fact that you probably won’t have TV (which is a good
thing). You’re not going to see the Yankees win the World Series and you’re not
going to be able to keep up with your favorite TV series. If you really need to
stay up to speed, you’ll always have your computer.
They probably might not have the same brand names
where you’re going. Things like Tide, Cheerios, or Skippy might exist, just
under a different name. Don’t freak out, you’ll adjust quickly. Some things
like Coca Cola are going to be pretty much the same (although they have
different terms for diet and light). Take comfort in the fact that not
everything will be different.
Be prepared for ridiculous costs. I’m not saying
that everything is going to be expensive, but just be aware that some things
are. I paid something like four dollars a load for laundry, and I had a lot of
laundry. It may be a result of being in a different country, or it might just
be that something in particular, like laundry, costs more at your school.
On a more somber note, try and get yourself ready
for the actual academic part of the study abroad experience as well basic life
in general. Like I’ve said and will continue to say, I believe if you fail your
classes, you’re wasting a good part of the experience. Look into whether or not you need to buy
books. If not, you should probably go find the library because more than likely
you’ll have to check books out for short periods of time.
While you’re at it, try to get acquainted with
the rest of the area around your school. The experience is always better when
you actually appreciate the landscape and local culture, not to mention you
don’t want to get lost on your first day of class.
Head to a store and buy some basics: toiletries,
cookware, linens, laundry detergent, food, etc. Overall, just try to enjoy that
first week or so that you’re there. It’s probably the only time you will have
zero work, and therefore the best time to fully enjoy your new found freedom in
a foreign country.
It’s not a bad idea to try and find a job.
Working eight to 10 hours a week, even for minimum wage, will probably take
care of a huge chunk of your weekly expenses.
Lastly, I’ve heard the best cure for jet lag is a
long night’s sleep, followed by a hot meal when you wake up.
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