Monday, 21 September 2015

Studying Abroad: The Adjustment Phase

Studying Abroad

Travelling abroad can be both extremely romantic and deathly frightening – trust me I’ve been experiencing both sides of the coin for the past few weeks. I’ve been settling into the beautiful city of Granada, Spain, where I will be studying for the next academic year.

First of all, if you’re thinking about trying this yourself - do it. Yes there have been times when I felt like crawling into my new, strange bed and pulling the covers over my head, wishing I was at home surrounded by my beautiful friends and living somewhere where everything is familiar -  but after a quick glass of the local sangria and a stroll down the cobbled streets I’m back to thinking that this is truly where I need to be.  And here’s why - embarking on a journey to see the world while continuing your studies is going to force you to develop as a young adult.

Getting involved in your new environment can be the hardest part of studying abroad, especially if you don’t speak the local language. Keep your eyes open for language courses that are offered by fellow students (kind of like the SVCC club offers at North campus); these will give you more confidence in interacting with locals. But, if you’re worried about travelling to study in a country whose language you don’t speak, fret not! My Spanish has helped me navigate obtaining a bank account and residence card, but besides administrative topics, one can get by without knowing the local language. I have met plenty of international students who are all of at varying levels of Spanish and everyone gets by perfectly fine!

Getting settled while studying abroad

And just to be clear, those international students that I’ve met are not all from the U of A. Obviously, some are, but there are plenty of students here who have organized their time here by joining other non-university run programs. And from what I’ve learned so far, their experience abroad isn’t too different from mine; they still get to be a part of a large group (which makes it so much easier to make friends) and they get to go on pre-arranged side-trips. They also get to participate in special events that have been set up to help them stay engaged with one another. Plus, they aren’t exclusive – it’s not like they we can’t hang out because we’re in different programs, so they’ve been able to help introduce me to new people and new sites, and vice versa. Basically, the important thing to do is to let yourself find a friend group.

There is also much to be said for spending time alone, after all, there is no better time to develop yourself than when you are starting anew. Take the time you have alone and wander the streets, find new stores and restaurants or parks. Knowing some great off-the-beaten path places will make great for conversation with new friends. Getting outside to exercise can also be a nice way to de-stress.

If you’re studying abroad, you might not be able to work abroad (depending on your visa, your program demands, etc.) But that means that you’ll likely have time to take up or practice your hobbies. Most residences and universities include gyms that host sports activities. and just like back home, you can usually find a selection of on campus clubs to join -which have the added bonus of connecting you to new friends all while you learn and develop new talents.

And don’t forget to explore opportunities (including clubs, sports, artistic ventures, etc.) that all you to immerse yourself in your   host culture. There are many customs embedded in every city and learning them will help you to feel like as though you’re really a part of the community.

Adjusting to life abroad

Last but not least, your residence will likely organize welcome weeks and events designed to help you bond with your new neighbours. If you’re staying with a host family or roommates, then you shouldn’t be surprised if they show you around too. Host families and room-mates who have established themselves in the community will turn you into an insider in no time! They’ll also make you feel like you are a part of the family, which can be very comforting when your own family is an ocean (and maybe even a continent) away.

So if you’ve mustered up the courage to study abroad, remember, you won’t be alone. Just like back home, you need to find your supports, explore your surroundings, and discover the community that you’ve joined. You might get a little homesick (and you might get really homesick too), but there will be people around to help you adjust to your new settings. You’ll find your place and you’ll love it.

Adventure well and see you all next semester!

Paige - YouAlberta Contributor

Paige is a fourth year student aspiring to become a Conference Interpreter after completing a bachelor of arts in French, Spanish and Japanese. She has a passion for everything cultural and is a total linguistic nerd. Away from her favourite study spot on campus, you can find her training with the Rowing Team or taking naps wherever possible.


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