Preparing for Study Abroad: Tips for a Smooth Transition

You’ve settled on a study abroad program and just wrapped your head around how far you’ll be from home for the next few months or even a year. Now what? Getting ready for your new adventure can feel overwhelming.

Your study abroad program will likely provide you with a checklist of logistical steps needed to study overseas, but what about the rest? We’ve got you covered with these expert tips on preparing yourself for the journey ahead.

Practice Patience

hourglass with sand

The waiting period between getting accepted to your study abroad program and learning who your host family is can be nerve-racking. However, host families need to fill out a detailed application and be carefully vetted (just like you were!) before they are allowed to host students. This process, of course, takes time.

Remember to be patient and remind yourself that this vetting process exists to ensure that you get the most out of your study abroad experience. Carefully evaluating the host families allows us to make sure that they are a good match for you!

Connect With Your Host Family

girl smiling and waving at laptop

Introduce yourself to your host family! Remember, they are probably as curious about you as you are about them. Don’t be nervous, they chose to host because they’re excited to meet you! Establishing a connection with your host family early on can help reduce anxiety about what to expect and help you both ease into building a relationship.

Making this connection early on also gives you a chance to ask any questions you may have been thinking about. These conversations will help you learn more about their family dynamic and what they enjoy. This will make getting to know each other once you arrive in your host country that much more enjoyable. Learning more about them will also help you pick out the best gifts to bring them from your home country!

Research Your Host Country

journal, camera, map, passport

Familiarize yourself with your host country. Understanding the history, traditions, and cultural norms of the country you’ll be living in for the next several months will make the adjustment period less overwhelming. Doing some background research will make your study abroad experience much more meaningful!

A Google search might be a good place to start but also try watching movies and reading about your host country’s customs and culture. You can use social media (blogs, Instagram, YouTube, etc.) to get a more realistic perspective on the daily life of students there. Videos can help you better understand what day-to-day life looks like in your host country and what issues you might encounter.

boy reading book in library

Just remember, try not to have expectations! Everyone’s experience is different, and you want to be as open-minded as possible when it comes to experiencing a new culture. Culture shock is unavoidable, but preparation always helps. If anything, it will keep you from offending others (and hopefully avoid some potential cultural faux pas)!

Create a List of Study Abroad Goals

notepad with "goals"

Make a list of objectives to accomplish while abroad to help you get the most of your exchange. Set achievable goals. They can be as small as enjoying a specific activity with your host family and visiting a nearby town or as big as becoming more independent. This list can help you feel grounded by reminding you why you chose to study abroad. This will come in handy if you’re ever feeling lost or overwhelmed in your new, unfamiliar environment.

Refresh Your Language Skills

girl taking notes from laptop

Brush up on some words and phrases in your host language before you depart. This will allow you to communicate with your host family and fellow students more effectively and better navigate your new environment. Making a genuine effort to communicate with people in their own language shows them that you’re making an effort to connect with them and understand their culture. This goes a long way towards building respect when meeting new people and developing friendships!

Focus on “survival” phrases to help you with basic conversations. If you’re feeling more motivated, consuming popular media in your host language can help you start conversations with your peers. Don’t get discouraged! Remember that you’ll pick up your host country’s language much more quickly once you’re fully immersed in that culture.

Prepare for Culture Shock

girl with surprised face

Lean into culture shock. Learning as much about your host culture as possible will help you get an idea of what to prepare for. However, letting go of your expectations and leaping into study abroad with an open mind will allow you to get the most out of your experience.

One of the best ways to successfully navigate culture shock is to plan on how you’ll deal with it before you arrive. Brainstorm things that could help with your adjustment. You could plan to share your feelings with your host mom, join a club at your new school, engage in a physical activity that relaxes you such as going for a run, volunteer with your new school, etc. Spend some time thinking about what will make YOU feel the most comfortable when you are totally out of your comfort zone!

Say Your Goodbyes and Enjoy the Journey!

girl with head out car window waving

Spend extra time with your loved ones before leaving and allow yourself to say goodbyes. Goodbyes can be one of the most challenging parts of studying abroad, but they’re a necessary part of the journey. Remind yourself of all the new relationships you’ll cultivate while studying abroad and the new experiences ahead. When you return home, you’ll have so many fun stories to tell those closest to you!

tiny book with "enjoy the journey"

Let yourself be fully immersed in your new culture, and most importantly, have fun! Leaving your comfort zone and entering an unfamiliar environment can be scary. However, it can also be transformative, profoundly impacting your perspective on life, culture, and the rest of the world. If you prepare yourself and cultivate the right mindset, studying abroad will be a life-changing experience!

Are You Ready for Some Fun?

Study abroad and allow yourself to immerse yourself in a new culture and make memories that will last a lifetime!

To learn more about studying abroad with ICES, or to start a Study Abroad Request Form, simply click the button below.

We'd love to help you have the adventure of a lifetime!

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Tags: Host Families, Cultural Exchange, Exchange Student, Outbound, Study Abroad, Youth Exchange

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