Moving to a new place always holds a seed of terror. Even if it is only to the neighborhood next door, each place holds its own culture that you might not be sure if you fit into. While going abroad, this worry about fitting in and unpleasantly standing out is especially prominent.
For my study abroad experience I decided to go to London, so I had no language barrier for all intents and purposes. My first week in London was completely free of classes. My roommates knew each other already and had friends all over London and Europe. I knew absolutely no one and at first, I found myself envious of my roommates and a little lonely upon arrival. However, I have now been in England for a little under a month, have made friends and am having the time of my life. I’ve compiled a list of tips about what I did to survive.
Research – but not too much.
Watch out! Before I arrived in London, everyone I knew wanted to tell me what the UK was like, even if they had never been. People will give you a lot of false information. Instead, do your own research. One of my favorite resources was YouTube videos done by people who were studying or working abroad in England from America and talking about their pros and cons of a country. I also read articles on English culture and traditions, slang and so on.
Honestly, I did a little too much research because by the time I arrived, I had tons of misconceptions. Many surprises awaited me, despite my research. Because I was so ‘thorough,’ there were a few adjustments of what I thought was true compared to what was. In other words, do your research, but know nothing can replace hands-on experience with a culture.
Move! Get out and explore.
I mentioned before that my roommates already knew each other before I arrived and have not really included me since we arrived. Don’t let situations like this stop you! No sulking in your beautiful SAI apartment. You are in another country! Isn’t that exciting?! So explore! Do your research on the best tourist spots and go to them first. Get that inner tourist out as soon as possible so you can later begin to find the more intimate places in your area. In England, many of the museums are free and the first week I walked and walked, going all over London.
Your school might also offer a program for traveling either to other countries or other cities in your country. Go to them! Even if you have never heard of the places they offer to take you, check them out. In order to understand the country you are in, you can’t stay in one place. Culture can change crazy amounts from city to city. So check them out! Make yourself at home. Make your SAI housing hold your personal touches.
Even if you have lived far from home for years, being in your third or fourth year of college, when you are halfway across the world from the friends and family you know, it’s easier to get homesick. SAI give its students beautiful living facilities, but don’t be afraid to add your own personal touches!
Like plants? Get a cactus to keep you company! Put up a poster or some Polaroids of your friends or family from back home. Make sure to Skype your friends and family as well. Make the place you live a comfortable home, not just a place you sleep.
Meet people. Go to school clubs and take part in the country’s culture.
Most likely, the school you go to has clubs, like sports or knitting. Sign up for something you love, or maybe something new. Also learn about where people like to meet up. England has a rich bar culture and even if you don’t drink, go get a bite to eat and surround yourself with locals and don’t be afraid to talk to people.
I have made my friends through going to school workshops and social programs. Once my classes started up I was also open to talking to the international and local students. Also be patient, you aren’t going to find your best friend on the first day of classes. Meet people, talk, find out what they are interested in and share what you love with them. You might just be surprised how much you have common with the students around you.
I’ll keep this brief, as any student studying abroad will be warned of many of the dangers of the country they go to. First, keep your valuables close. I always keep my wallet, phone and house keys close to my body, usually in a zipped pocket or literally attached to me. If you feel especially uncertain, purchase a few locks to put on your bags to keep sneaky hands out. Make sure the bags you have are sturdy and not easy to slash through. Crossbody bags are harder to steal, so I suggest using them. Many times the airport is the largest place for pick-pockets, so no matter how tired you are when you arrive after a long flight, don’t fall asleep there. Once you are officially in your country, listen to the locals and what they do for safety. Try not to stand out as a typical tourist. Many times your own safety is determined by the simple rule of ‘keep your wits about you.’
Studying abroad is something that I had always wanted to do, and now that I am here, I am so happy and grateful. However, after the initial excitement of arriving, I found that my sense of wonder fades as I adjust to my surroundings. With classes, waves of homesickness and the disorientation of living somewhere new, it’s impossible to at least have one bad day. Everyone needs to remember that every journey is going to have ups and downs.
Don’t let that deter you though! Life is full of rich experiences and new amazing places and people to discover. You are stronger than you think and even if you ignore everything you just read, you’ll figure your way around.
Angela is an SAI London spring 2018 student from Rochester Institute of Technology.