Studying abroad is an awesome life-changing experience that nets you friends and business contacts around the globe. Even better, a trip to Europe or Asia is a great way to get to know yourself. In spite of the excitement, many students also get understandably nervous about studying abroad. What are some common fears, and what can you do about them?
Five Fears Travelers Face
Picking up some mysterious illness or feeling terrible when you’re in another country isn’t fun.
- The truth: While it’s good to be careful, you’re usually just as likely to get sick at home as when traveling abroad. Minor illnesses – like stomach problems – are easy to handle with over-the-counter medicine.
- What to do: Contact a travel doctor at home and find out if there are any serious illnesses where you’re headed – there probably won’t be, but it’s for your peace of mind. Get any vaccines you need before leaving. When you arrive, avoid street eats. Instead, check out reviews from other travelers for great local restaurants.
Leaving Friends and Family Behind
You don’t want to get cut out of the loop when it comes to important life events of people you care about.
- The truth: Staying connected while studying abroad is really easy; smartphones, internet service, and social apps reach virtually everywhere.
- What to do: Either install an international chip in your smartphone or buy a new phone when you arrive. You can either bring your account passwords with you to stay logged in or create a new social media account specifically dedicated to your trip. That way everyone you love practically travels with you.
Not speaking the language
In many countries, English isn’t the main language.
- The truth: It can be frustrating when you don’t understand everything going on. However, in Europe, many citizens speak fluent English. In Asia, that’s not always the case, but you’ll see very quickly that communication via facial expressions lets you make friends easily.
- What to do: Learn important phrases – especially related to asking directions and food – at home. Don’t panic and don’t expect perfection as you learn additional phrases. Instead, celebrate your victories triumphantly and practice your language skills every day on your trip.
Customs – everything from whether or not to take off your shoes to common table manners – vary widely in different parts of the world.
- The truth: Most foreign residents are just as curious about you as vice-versa. In fact, you’ll learn firsthand how patient many cultures are with visitors.
- What to do: Keeping an open mind means you’ll make tons of friends and learn different ways of doing things. Also, be prepared to laugh at your own mistakes sometimes.
If you’ve never traveled to another country alone before – and like to watch action movies – you might fear you’re going to be in danger constantly.
- The Truth: It’s true, crime does exist in other countries, but that’s a fact of life pretty much anywhere … even back home.
- What to do: Traveling with an organization you trust – or with friends – also goes a long way. For example, International Business Seminars enrolls all students with citizenship to the United States in the Department of State’s STEP Program, which informs American embassies of where students will be staying for the entirety of their program.
Common Challenges While Studying Abroad
Even adventurous personalities who absolutely love their new surroundings still get homesick. If you feel lonely, pick up your phone and send a text or two. Even if it’s the middle of the night back home, your family and friends will be happy to hear from you. Taking lots of pictures of all the amazing things you’re experiencing lets you share your journey with loved ones.
Another inevitable reality; jet lag can make you feel exhausted for a few days. Prepare your body ahead of time – about two weeks before you travel – by gradually going to bed later than usual. When you arrive at your destination, don’t sleep until it’s nighttime.
Being in a Strange Place
No one likes feeling odd or left out, but all adventurers go through an acclimation phase. In the meantime, try to make friends, ask experienced travelers for advice, check out tourism guides and mostly just have some fun. If you’re patient, soon you’ll be the expert giving travel advice to your friends back home.
Making Your Cash Last
With tons to see and so many exotic things to buy – not to mention that eating out adds up after a while – it’s not surprising for students studying abroad to struggle with keeping tabs on their cash. The solution? Make a budget and stick to it. Set aside specific amounts for food, entertainment, and gifts. Keep several hundred dollars tucked away for emergencies or when you see that once-in-a-lifetime souvenir you can’t live without.
Don’t Worry, You’ve Got This
Spend some time investigating your destination before you leave – what the weather is like, what the local cuisine is and what places are top on your must-see list. Also, stay flexible. Serendipity is a great travel agent. With a positive attitude, there’s nothing you can’t handle while studying abroad. In the end, you’ll be glad you did.