You’ve stuffed your luggage to the brim, hugged friends and family goodbye, and boarded your flight to the exotic international locale that you’ll soon call home. What now? Spending a semester abroad can be one of the most thrilling experiences of your college career, but it’s challenging to acclimate and immerse yourself in a new culture, especially when you don’t speak the native language. We asked the experts for their top tips on enhancing your time abroad so that you can avoid any Lost in Translation moments.
Set specific goals.
“Set goals for yourself when going abroad so that you can bring experiences back home with you,” says Tiffany Harrison, the Outreach Manager of GoAbroad , an online travel community. “Whether you want to learn to cook a traditional recipe from your host family or pack for the long-term, these lessons of daily life can translate back home. How you choose to learn from your experiences, or even apply them as transferable job skills, will make all the difference.”
Befriend the locals.
“Make at least one local friend,” says Dave Matthew, co-founder of Students Gone Global, a blogging platform for study abroad students. “Join a club, community service group, or a sports league—it will help you form a network and find people you click with. Go out of your way to talk to students in your classes.”
Sign up for classes that allow you to explore.
“Take classes that are interesting and related to the local culture,” says Matthew. “I highly recommend classes with field trips because your professor can show you a side of the country you never would have seen on your own.”
If you’re staying with a host family, get to know them.
“When living with a host family, be mindful of their lifestyle and try your best to mimic it,” says Lauren Seidl, a member of GoAbroad’s Content & Outreach Team. “Have a conversation about rules and customs right away to be sure you know what your host family expects of you and what you should expect from them. One of the best ways you can show respect to your host family is by immersing yourself in their way of life—try every meal that is offered to you at least once, and ask them to teach you how to play their favorite sport or game.”
Wait a few weeks after your arrival to travel.
“When first arriving in your new home country, it helps to take two weeks to a month before traveling,” says Harrison. “Take that time to get to know your new home, explore your neighborhood, and make some new friends. That way, when you decide to start traveling further, you’ll have had a chance to settle in.”
Ask locals to recommend restaurants instead of going to expensive tourist traps.
Don’t let language barriers deter you.
“Many programs offer opportunities for exchange with local students—community service trips, conversation sessions, and sports leagues,” says Matthew. “Don’t wait around for these opportunities to come to you. If your university doesn’t have any set programs, request them! Many language professors will gladly arrange a meet up for American students and locals if you ask.”
Consider getting a job or an internship.
“During my experience abroad, I was given the opportunity to teach English for $600 per month,” says Matthew. “There are also internships available for international students. The majority of resources and employment opportunities I found were through my abroad school’s international student center.”
“It’s very easy to blow through all of your savings by making poor decisions,” warns Matthew. “Ask locals to recommend restaurants instead of going to expensive tourist traps, purchase items in the native language whenever possible, search daily deal sites such as Groupon if they have them for your city, and avoid eating out every night.”
Avoid dangerous situations.
“Research, research, research to stay out of trouble,” says Seidl. “Know what time the sun sets so you won’t find yourself walking alone in the dark. Understand which areas are okay to be in and which aren’t.”
Take an active approach to fighting homesickness.
“Stay positive and remember that homesickness doesn’t last forever,” says Harrison. “Stay connected to people back home by writing letters, using Skype, keeping a blog, and even making time for phone calls.”