Hello. If you don't know, my name is Finley. After living a month abroad and talking to other host students, I decided to write a guide for those settling in. This will involve my personal experience, along with my conversations with other exchange students. This is just some stuff I feel is essential for some to know before studying abroad
Section 1: Pre-Departure
Before one even departs. There are plenty of things students should know before they also pack their bags; here were the most important things I've learned.
Know why You're Going
What's the Point? Why waste all this time preparing to go? Why are you going abroad? From experience, I've learned that having the right mindset is key to making for the journey ahead. As I've met other exchange students that are not apart of CIEE or STS. A lot of students come to get away from it all or have a good time. This is the worst reason to go because, after about a month, most students are tired of remaining abroad and end up having a challenging time during their stay. They are also more likely to get into trouble instead of focusing on studies. I went abroad to see what different cultures are like, gain financial independence, focus on myself and my personal growth, and to show colleges back at home that I'm an outstanding independent student. If you don't go for a good reason, you're going to regret this trip.
You are NOT on Vacation
Everyone falls into this trap. You genuinely feel like you are on vacation. I especially felt this way while in Paris and before I left, but I made sure to remind myself that I was going for school. A lot of students by the first month tend to get stressed when the reality that they are in school again hits them, and they tend to get very homesick. It is crucial to remember that you are here for education and not on vacation.
Talk to Your Host Family
Another crucial thing to do is to communicate with your host family, and if you're going to school with a host sibling, then it is CRUCIAL. A lot of exchange students may feel shy or anxious on their first day, especially if there is a language barrier; it is beneficial to know someone before you depart. It is also useful to get to know your host parents; nobody wants things to be awkward on their first day.
Do Your Research
CIEE ended up being very inaccurate when it came to describing my school. Before I left, I was terrified about the school I was going to, but when I arrived, it was completely different. I highly recommend that students do a lot of research on their school, learn about social norms, do research on the fashion in Denmark, and ask questions. CIEE can't describe every school in a particular country, because every school is not the same. So I highly recommend you do your research.
Your First Week
After spending my first week in Denmark, here is what I learned, and what people should and should not do.
The First Day
So, You've landed in your country; you're exhausted, jetlagged, and weary. That's how I felt when I landed, I hadn't slept in 32 hours and was ready to collapse. When I arrived, the first thing I asked where I was staying, then I asked how to get water, and then I asked where the bathroom is. Once I did this, I was set. If you arrived on a weekday, I don't recommend going to school. Talk to your host family and explain that you should take the day off, and settle in. Another point I want to make is don't overdo it, take your first week to adjust at school and home, it may be in your best interest to sleep instead of going out, or you might get sick like me. It is also vital to check in with your host family and establish ground rules; it is also essential to communicate with your local coordinator.
There is no race to unpack, don't feel like you need to do it the first day. Take your time with it; it took me a week to get it done. But once you do, you will feel very organized.
Once you feel settled, go exploring. Get your shampoos and new toothpaste while you're out, but with a host parent or friend, explore the town, take pictures and see sights. It's good to know what is nearby, and where you can restock on essentials. Another part of this is to learn your way around. Learn where your host family lives, where your school is, and how to get there. It is essential to be able to get around at all times, especially in an emergency.
Your First Month
It's been two weeks, and you're feeling great. The school has been fun, you have friends, but you're starting to think about home, and you miss your friends in your native country. Here is my guide to surviving your first month.
Try new Foods
In certain cultures, it can be very offensive when someone doesn't even try new things. If you're a picky eater like me, it's tough to try fresh foods. I always tell myself to try it once, and if I don't like it, I don't have to eat it ever again. It's also good to have cultural exchange with your host family, offer to give them foods from your culture; for example, I made Philly cheesesteak for dinner one night and American pancakes for breakfast. They were both very popular. In summary, don't be shy about trying new things.
Communication With Your Parents and Friends at Home
It's easy to miss your friends at home, along with your parents. I decided that I would call my friends on the weekends when they woke up, and I give my parents updates every other day. Though it is essential to stay in touch, it is also good to set limits, if you only talk to your friends at home, then you're not making friends abroad, and if you don't want to leave your room, how can you explore?
I cannot understate how important it is to communicate with your host family. As a person who can be somewhat anxious, I can understand that it's hard to do so, but your host family can't read your mind, you need to tell them that you need things and when you need them, even if it's embarrassing or you're scared.
Last Minute Ramblings
These were some afterthoughts I think are essential, but don't need to be put into an entire section.
- If you're waiting for someone to talk to you, don't. Make the first move.
- Make sure to take care of your own needs; most host families are not being paid to take care of you; it's a choice. You need to be responsible.
- You're not an exception in schools, and if teachers treat you as such, tell them not to.
- Join extra circulars and clubs.
- Try it, even if you're tired.
Thanks for reading my guide on starting out while abroad, as a person who has experienced this first hand, I hope I was able to help!