Studying abroad is one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences a person can have. Even so, when the process starts – from the search for courses to the purchase of airline tickets – there is no way to predict what the experience will be. This is mainly because many ideas about studying abroad are preconceived and do not always fit into reality. That’s why we’ve listed ten things every student should know before studying abroad – not all of them are negative and most will help you keep your feet on the ground while enjoying your time.
You will have to study
The main purpose of studying abroad is, well, get high-qulity eduation in a foreigh country. It seems obvious, but there are many people who go abroad thinking only about the parties, clubs, tours and trips they will do during the exchange. Of course, with good time management, you will be able to do all of this and more. However, it is very important to keep your focus: you have traveled abroad to study. Your school or university will certainly have some rule about minimum attendance and will require specific performance for the award of your diploma.
One semester is not always enough to become fluent in a second language
Learning a foreign language is difficult. Certainly, being immersed in a country where it is the official language and is used everywhere will make learning a lot easier (in fact, many believe that this is the best and fastest way to learn a language). However, if your proficiency is a beginner, one semester will probably not be enough to become fluent. Furthermore, immersion is only extremely beneficial if you know how to use it. Many students close themselves out because they are afraid of making mistakes and end up living only with their home country people which delays and makes learning difficult.
To gain proficiency, you will need to study hard, make an effort, ask questions in the classroom, take every opportunity to talk to native speakers, not be afraid to make mistakes (after all, you are a learner). In other words: practice, practice and practice to make your exchange worthwhile. And it’s also important to know that language proficiency is a constant and virtually infinite job (so don’t be angry if you hear the following sentence when you return to yourhomeland: “You studied abroad, how come you don’t know what [insert word] means?” )
Meet culture diversity
Going abroad does not mean, ever, “escape” from your own culture. No matter where you go, you will find foreighers and meet the diffrent culture.
Culture shock is very real
Not all American series and movies could have prepared me for the first two weeks of culture shock I went through when I landed in the United States. And this happens regardless of your study destination. It’s good to know that culture shock isn’t bullshit and it can hit hard in the early days. But pass! It takes a while to get used to the different language, the different houses, the way of being different (especially if you travel to a country where people tend to be colder or closed). It can last a day, a week or a month – this varies greatly from person to person. Indeed, some exchange students don’t even feel it. In my case, I believe it took me a month to feel adapted and I ended up staying for another 17 months in the country. Therefore, the key is to understand that culture shock is just a phase and allow yourself time to get over it.
People will have formed ideas about you
You will be asked to samba. They will ask if you live in the jungle. They will say they love Carnival. They’ll want to talk to you about football. They’ll sing “oh if I catch you”. Yes, foreigners have stereotyped ideas about your home country. But, if you think about it, you also have ideas about them. For example: every American loves clubbing and has a gun at home. Europeans are very cold. All Italians love pasta. You got an idea, didn’t you? Take advantage of these opportunities where stereotyped questions are asked to teach foreigners about our Brazilian culture.
Dating during the exchange can be an overrated idea
The movies sell us an extremely romanticized idea about finding the love of life in a foreign country. In reality, people are people, relationships aren’t easy anywhere in the world, and just because the location is more romantic (how can you not wait for a love story in Paris, right?), nothing guarantees you’ll find love for the whole life.
That said, it’s always important to remember that beautiful romance stories do happen during exchanges and you don’t need to close yourself off to opportunities. It is only necessary, of course, a lot of caution and security when meeting new people; and also take into account that cultures are very different from each other, what is considered normal for you in a relationship can be completely foreign to a native.
You will never be completely prepared
Maybe you’re caught off guard by winter in Australia or be amazed by summer in the United States. It may take you a while to understand how the American or British academic education system works. Valvez takes months to understand the predominant accent in the city… There are many ways to feel unprepared. A super research before traveling helps immensely, but it’s good to be prepared for surprises and misunderstandings.
Living up to expectations helps to have a better experience
This, in fact, is a rule for life. In the end:Expectation – reality = happiness. London may not be at all what you expected; or that you don’t make dozens of foreign friends, as you planned. But it’s alright! Chances are, the experience will be even better than you expected – so polite expectations help a little bit.
The best memories are unplanned
The best memories of this experience will likely be those that weren’t in the script. I’ll give you a personal example: during a vacation trip to Los Angeles with five other Brazilian friends (who were also au pairs in Virginia), we were on our way to a club in the city and ended up going through a party at a hostel. Some people who were staying there called us to participate and we ended up talking to people from all over the world, singing at the karaoke, playing ping pong and having a lot of fun. We went to the ballad afterwards, which no one knew about, and the American bands LMFAO and Far East Movement were there, out of nowhere. This was one of the most spontaneous and fun things that ever happened to us and none of us expected it or planned for it to happen.
Your experience depends on you
In the end, the study abroad experience is largely up to you. You decide your study destination. You are the one who decides to be open to a new culture, new knowledge and new friendships. You will manage your time between studies and fun. You will choose to leave your comfort zone!