World Wednesdays - What to expect from studying abroad?

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World Wednesdays - What to expect from studying abroad?

(10-15 min read)

Part 3 of 3 in a series dedicated to studying abroad, how to do it, and what to expect.

So now that you’ve hopefully read the first two parts about why you should study abroad, and how to accomplish that, it is now time to outline what to expect from this adventure.

This process can be divided into three phases: before, during, and after aspects of your study abroad trip. Each phase is very different for various reasons and it is important to understand them to learn how to adapt to them as they all pose unique challenges that you won’t find anywhere else. 


You’ve made it this far now with all the major obstacles out of the way and now it is time to pack, set goals, and figure out exactly what to expect. When I studied abroad I had no idea what to expect for my day to day experiences and while that will still be true for many of you knowing some of the things to expect can hopefully help you prepare and make adjustments. 

First things first, packing. Make sure you have all the essential gear you will need and try not to worry much about the small stuff like shampoo, toothpaste etc., since in this instance it is better to purchase it there. Depending on the semester you have chosen to go in and where it is in the world packing clothing that will be useful throughout the whole trip and not only for a few moments will be best. For example if you’re leaving in August for a fall semester and summer weather is still around try and take clothing that will work when the winter hits and not just for the early heat.

Additionally it might be better to buy new outfits there instead of before as you can spread out your budget and be more conscious about where you really want your money to go. Take old clothing you might want to leave behind so that you can make room for more stuff in your suitcase on the way back. 

One important set of things to remember to take is a copy of all your important paperwork in case you need it over there. It is very likely you might not have immediate access to a printer or scanner so taking extra copies of your passport, insurance, visa, birth certificate, etc. will be important. This is in addition to having a digital copy in a cloud service of your choice since you may have no digital access to them until you are properly set-up. It is good to have contingency plans for these things as they can delay other processes required and show proof if you get stopped by security for any reason.

Make sure you also leave a copy of all that paperwork with your parents just in case they may need it, it happens believe me. Make sure if you have credit cards let the bank know you will be traveling as they might block you from them if they don’t recognize the activity in a new country. 

Know your itinerary well the day you leave especially if you have a connecting flight. Usually your international health insurance can cover you if your flight gets delayed or worse cancelled. Remember to pack two sets of clothing in your carry-on as your checked-in baggage may get lost on the way there, it happens more often than it should.

Additionally your university should have sent a welcome packet with all the information and questions you may have upon arrival. If you have not read that take it with you so that you can read it during the flight. These are just some of the details to keep in mind. You want to start of the trip right so take your time and make a careful packing list and to-do list so that departure day will be another day worth remembering before the trip has even begun. 


You’ve landed, everything went fine, no trouble during the flight, and you found your way to your new home, now what? Depending on whether you will be staying a semester or a year it is important to begin the adjustment process as early as possible. You will probably experience something known as culture shock, which is normal when living in a new place. Walk around your new neighborhood and take your time exploring it so that you don’t feel like a stranger. You will most likely be using another language that you have not mastered yet, so the earlier you begin using it the better.

Don’t be discouraged when people try and use your native language if they see you struggling in theirs. Keep practicing and slowly it will become natural to you. If you encounter rude people, pay them no mind, it happens but it is best to ignore them and forget about those moments. Focus on integrating into the community that way more people will react positively as those instances show appreciation and sincerity about learning their culture. One good way of trying that is by simply greeting your local shops as often as possible and letting them you are student staying for the next few months, they usually like sharing about themselves that way. 

If you will be staying with a host family it is important to be respectful of their home, rules, and time. Each family and each situation will be different. If you will be joining them for meals then use that time wisely to practice your language skills, get answers to procedures you may be uncertain of, and bond with them. At the end of the trip it will feel like having another family that you may never see again so appreciate those moments because they do only come once in a lifetime.

Depending on when you arrived, either a few weeks before or right at the start of the semester, meeting your new classmates is what will really impact your trip the most. You will most likely be having an orientation day where you will learn in full detail what to expect, usually this will include the procedure for your classes, rules, etc. Take good notes, ask questions, follow up with key people if there are issues and soon you will feel like a local student. The students you meet will fall under two camps, the local students, and the rest of your international cohort joining you this semester.

Your classes will most likely be a mixture of the local students and international ones with the local ones taking up the majority of that percentage. This is where you will need to be conscious of your expectations as it will not be easy to integrate with the local students. While most will be civil and courteous breaking into their circle of friends takes time and luck. If the university offers opportunities for extracurricular activities use that time to integrate more into their lives. Speak the language as often as you can and learn about student life as much as possible. 

Your experience this trip will most likely be amazing since your international cohort will be where the most bonding happens and where you will develop really great friendships. You will usually speak one common language to make communication easier at the small cost of not practicing your target language. In any case these people are the ones who you will study with, be neighbors with, and hang out with the most.

Here is when you can find yourself torn between your academics and wanting to just explore the city and have a good time. Finding the right balance will be up to you and the level of difficulty your classes will be. My recommendation is to not procrastinate when doing HW and focus on completing that as soon as possible as that will give you more time and cause less stress. It takes discipline to make responsible decisions and although you will find it difficult to choose the easy options when in the spur of the moment you also don’t want to throw away this opportunity and delay your schooling years by not being careful with your freedom abroad. 

One important part about living abroad is the living part. This is not a vacation and this is not permanent both of these things matter. You are living abroad which means there will be good days, bad days, rainy days, laundry days, homework days, grocery days, all kinds of days. You will get sick even if you don’t usually get sick. This means learning the process of treating yourself without immediate family members or friends who can help you which is something you want to prepare for.

If you live in a timezone with a lot of time between your home country and your current country then getting on the phone for suggestions might be out of the question. Remember that calling them might make them worry more than they should since they will be powerless to help you. Instead make sure you know all the emergency numbers and protocols of your country, review it because in the moment you might not be able too. 

Follow the advice of the locals and stay away from parts of town they warn you about. Be on the lookout when exploring since you’ll probably look like a tourist with all the picture taking you will do, which will make you an easy target for thieves. Don’t break any laws! Be respectful of everything and it will make your trip way smoother. Have fun but be mindful.

One additional suggestion I would make is to keep a journal to record your time abroad. Even if you consider your memory top-notch, writing down those memories in detail will be something worth doing when looking back on them.


Even though your trip is now over this last part is still just as critical as everything before it. It is without a doubt you will experience many things being back and during the immediate days or weeks following that you will go through a process known as reentry shock. This is a real phenomenon of being abroad. It is important to realize that it will happen and how to cope with it. Here is a very detailed guide with everything you can expect.

You will most likely be a different person now that you are back. You will have experienced something that not many people go through. The memories and adventures you had have made a huge impact to your personal psyche and no one will ever take them away from you. The hardest part is understanding that you will probably never get to relive this same scenario, again no matter how much you wish it. This adjustment period is different for everybody but the important part to remember is that there are other people who have gone through that and are feeling the same way you are. The best thing you can do is to follow up with your university coordinator about events for returning students as that will allow you to be with people who can relate to the situation.

You will most likely also want to go abroad again, someway, somehow. Depending on your academic level you may be able too but for most people that might not happen so your only choice will be to look for similar opportunities like an internship or actual work abroad. 

I personally attended a Lessons from Abroad Conference this past weekend where I could share what my time abroad did for me. They also presented us with resources for continuing our study abroad journey. I decided to start this project you see before your eyes because of my study abroad experience. Studying abroad has such a profound impact that even your best friends and family might not understand. Everyone's experience will be different but just know that you aren’t alone and that you will be forever grateful to yourself for doing it. 


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