Studying abroad is a rewarding experience for so many reasons and there are a million and one things to be excited about. However, the days leading up to the flight and the first few days in a new country can be scary and are quite the adjustment. I just made it through my first week in Siena, Italy and I want to share with you some tips and tricks for adjusting!
First of all, try not to have too many expectations. My group has been very lucky on this front because we are studying abroad during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, and with several changes occurring in the months and weeks leading up to our program, we didn’t have the time to conjure up concrete expectations for our time in Italy. Instead, we were prepared to be flexible and adapt to whatever came our way. This is an incredible asset for study abroad students, in my opinion. If you go in with as few expectations as possible and the intention to be adaptable, then you will thrive in the study abroad environment.
Another important tip that I can share is to make sure that you know yourself. The first few days in a new country are exhausting and you need to know what your limits are. If you are running on 2 hours of sleep because of jet lag and you just had a full day of orientation and then some friends are talking about going out to dinner, it is okay to say that you need a break! You have to be aware of what your breaking point is and make sure that you don’t get to that place. It is incredibly valuable to know when you need to rest or reach out for help. There is a balance between having all of the experiences possible and also taking time to rest and pay attention to your needs.
Finally, be prepared to step outside your comfort zone and be willing to try new things. Almost every day of your study abroad experience will include learning something new or trying something new and that is the best part! Whether it be learning a new word in Italian, trying a new flavor of gelato, or haggling for a beach towel – there is always something new. Be willing to try everything once! This will help you adapt more quickly than you realize and make every day a little more exciting. The more you are willing to accept your host country’s culture and step outside of your comfort zone, the more quickly you will feel at home.
Adapting to a new country and a new culture can be jarring. Be prepared: come in with few expectations, know yourself, and be willing to step outside of your comfort zone. You will enjoy the experience more if you are ready for the challenges that accompany it!
Alyssa is a Summer 2021 Siena student from the College of William and Mary.