Imagine you are an exchange student. It is a great feeling when all your documents and clothes are packed, and you are almost ready for one of the greatest trips in your life.
You are ready to explore a new country, a new culture, a new language and a different education system. You are ready to broaden your horizons, to make new friends all over the world and find yourself in this continuous round of events.
Finally, you will be free of your parent’s attention and live on your own. You will learn how to be independent and responsible for your decisions and choices.
There is a great time ahead of you. However, you need to be prepared and ready for problems that are waiting for you and may prevent you from enjoying your time abroad.
4. Make new friends
A lot of exchange students are faced with the misunderstandings and difficulties involved in adapting to a new society. They have trouble communicating with students who speak different languages and this is a common reason for homesickness and depression while abroad.
“I think that the social piece of the college experience is very much a high priority for a student to be accepted,” said Ivan Merritt, Associate Dean of First-Year Studies. “College is a great time to explore something new and meet new friends. You need to learn from other people who did not walk the same way that you did. Be willing to step out of your comfort zone.”
Many exchange students are nervous about fitting in. They are in a whole new culture but a good thing about Troy University is that there are many other international students going through the same thing.
“Before I came here I was afraid that I wouldn’t fit in, I wouldn’t have any friends here,” said Ikràm Mnàffédh, a sophomore business administration major from Tunisia. “I was afraid that people here would not accept me. But when I came here it was totally different, people are very welcoming, and I met a lot of international students like me so we were experiencing this thing together.”
3. Observe the other culture
So, you already took the first step by going to a new country. The next step is to act. Imagine you are already at a university and you don’t know anybody. You have to make new friends.
One thing you should learn while making friends is that you have to be easygoing and free of any prejudices. You should not base your attitude toward a person on his or her religion, race or beliefs. If you do so, your chances of making a lot of friends reduce rapidly.
“You don’t have to judge people based on the way they think or how they look,” said Mnàffédh. “You have to be open-minded, social and ready to expect everything that can happen, everything that you are not used to.”
It is also important to pay attention to cultural differences between countries. You should not make any racist, religious or other potentially controversial jokes.
“Whenever you are abroad, at the beginning you are tiptoeing and you don’t know what the norms are, so you are very careful about everything just not to offend people,” said Jana Wieser, a senior broadcast journalism major from Germany. “It took me some time to get comfortable around some people so I would not be afraid to offend them.”
The first time is the hardest time. One of the most efficient things to do at first is to just observe people. By doing this you can be ready and prepared to react, what to do, what to say in certain situations.
“I watched people, looked what vocabulary they used, how they behaved, how they moved, how they communicated with each other,” Wieser said. “I observed them, and then I tried to adapt their behavior.”
“The biggest challenge is how well you can balance and still be successful,” Merritt said. “You have to learn what the priorities are and learn how to balance these priorities.”
Time starts to go by quickly when you are enjoying time with your friends. It can be parties, going to the cinema, malls, beaches, whatever, but do not forget that you have other priorities.
As you are here for a very limited period of time, whether it is one semester or four years, you need to use effective time management. You should decide what is more important for you at this moment. This does not mean that you should spend all your time studying in the library. You came here for academic excellence, but you also came to make unforgettable memories.
“There are very few students who have problems with adaptation in new place,” said Maria Frigge, an international student advisor. “It is more like a honeymoon period when they first come and everything is new and they are excited. Homesickness and depression doesn’t usually come until midterm. After midterms when they see their grades, they realized that they didn’t study.”
Besides studying and spending time with your friends you should find time for yourself. It’s a time of change in your life as you become more responsible, mature and independent. It’s time to open your eyes about other people’s cultures, countries, their ways of thinking and their behavior. You have a great chance to get to know people, citizens of a new country, their daily life, their beliefs, political system and many other things.
1. Stay busy
Nevertheless, when the honeymoon period ends, homesickness and depression may come. You may start to hate the language people are speaking. You may hate their food or their climate or many other things.
One tip to overcome this is to keep busy. It is crucial to keep active all the time. If you are preoccupied you will not have time to think about how bad your day was. Instead, you might have an interesting meeting with new people in half an hour or a beach trip or an event to volunteer at.
“When homesickness comes, they need some people just to talk to,” Merritt said. “They need to feel more at home and kind of take away that distance that they are dealing with. Attend places and events that do not make you feel isolated. I think it is important when people go and spend time with other people in just a very casual and relaxed manner.”
Be grateful. Keep a positive mindset. Remember why you are here.
“Whenever I wake up I always think like ‘I am here now, I have a chance when the others do not have this chance,’” Wieser said. “Positive thinking gets me out of bed and makes me feel better.”
Try to solve problems. Do not give up. Try to understand why you are getting bad grades or why you are in a bad mood.
“When I have some problems I usually talk to my friends or just sit alone and start thinking about it and how can I improve it,” Mnàffédh said.
“I always say that I’m here for experiencing something new, and I don’t want to have problems that keep me from this amazing experience. I try hard to overcome them and just enjoy my life here.”