Moving to a new place and a new country is never easy. When I was studying abroad on exchange in Europe, I freaked out the first month. But I’ve learned from my mistakes, and these are my best tips for a smooth adjustment in your first month of exchange.
I did my exchange in the United Kingdom and so I’ve added some tips specific to studying abroad in England, if this is helpful for your exchange, look for the little UK flag emoji 🇬🇧.
People typically have two reactions when they move abroad – first, they are super excited to be in a new country and second, they are scared, nervous, or even anxious about their new life. You might feel like hiding in your dorm room to skype friends from home – don’t do that.
The international office at my university organized a social event and that’s how I made my first few friends on exchange. We were all going through the same things, so we talked to each other about everything from Amsterdam travel plans to Phone SIM cards.
It’s amazing to think that between arriving on January 10th to the Australia Day party later that month, I had already gotten close with people from across the globe that I had only just met.
You will find amazing relationships and advice through getting out of your dorm room and socializing – if you’re reading this in your dorm room, this is your cue to text some friends and find some new restaurant or event to try!
If you are looking for things to do in London on a student budget, check out this post: Exploring London on 40pounds or less per day.
2. Get Logistically Over Organized
Your first few weeks of exchange will no doubt be filled with logistics. After all, you are basically rebuilding every thing in your life in a new country. It’s going to be hectic, confusing, and overwhelming.
When I say over organized, I mean that you need to not only look at what needs to be done but also how you are going to do it in the new country.
Getting a bank account, for example, seems like a simple process. In England, you can’t just walk into a bank and get an account. As a study abroad student, only certain banks would accept me. I had to ask friends, go to multiple banks, trust the bank teller that advised me to go with her bank (Santander), get a letter from my university, and finally schedule a 30 minute meeting with a bank employee to go over my new account AND then I had to wire transfer all my money, over three- five days, from Canada. My bank card arrived in the mail and week later. In Canada, I could just walk into a bank and ask for an account, sit down with a teller, and likely be done the whole process within an hour. In the UK, it took three weeks. 🇬🇧
So, get your logistical stuff done as fast as you can and try to navigate it with little to no roadblocks by always asking lots of questions, confirming everything properly, and approach the more complicated items – like bank accounts – with patience.
I’ve created this free checklist for Study Abroad students to use, it’s got everything on it and it’s perfect if you’re feeling overwhelmed. If you want more of my study abroad help, sign up at the bottom of this article to receive my Study Abroad Guide when it’s published!
3. Learn what culture shock is
Before I left on exchange, I had to attend a culture shock presentation at my school. It went through all of the stages of culture shock and some of the things I should be aware of about English culture.
There’s a huge difference between learning the definition of culture shock and experiencing it firsthand abroad. I definitely had a fair dose of culture shock in England, even though I had previously traveled to Europe, moved away from home before going abroad, and generally felt pretty open minded to the new culture. Culture shock can happen to anyone.
All you have to do is read about culture shock and be aware of the signs for the different phases. In the first month, you’ll likely be in the honeymoon phase. During this phase, find some self care or relaxing activities that you enjoy in your new country. For me, this was eating cake with my friend Brooke.
So when the culture shock hit, I had an amazing support network in place to help me get through it on exchange. During the worst homesickness I had, my friends took me to the beach and exactly the medicine I needed. Even something as simple as going for drinks with my friends and talking about what we were going through was extremely helpful.
4. Unconditional advice: Get Rid of Your Habits and Routine
Some people will advise students to establish a routine right away, and I agree. But at the same time, you’re living a whole new life. This is a massive chance to make changes in your life and habits, if you want to.
My routine at home was essentially wake up, stuff a bagel in my mouth, study, eat, study, eat, study, sleep, and repeat. With my study abroad, my school was a lot different and there was less emphasis on memorization. My day to day life was really different – because I was able to let go of my ordinary routine, I could adjust my habits to better fit my new lifestyle.
I definitely abandoned some daily habits and changed nearly my entire routine. When you go on study abroad, it’s introspective because you have to figure out who you are in this new place. It sounds dramatic but all that really means is that you should take time to do some self care and don’t hesitate to abandon things that simply don’t suit your new life.
Exchange taught me so much – here’s the 5 most important things exchange taught me.
5. Ask for Help
It doesn’t matter how many preparations you do, you’ll always run into roadblocks when moving abroad.
Whether you are looking for a train station in Italy or trying to find a classroom in a new building, do not be afraid to ask for help. As soon as people hear your accent they will likely know you aren’t a local and be happy to help you out.
The best part about being abroad is the friends you will meet (see step 1). Lean on these friends when you need help, don’t be afraid to let them know when you’re feeling like booking a flight home or dropping out of school. Chances are, they will go through the exact same thing a week later.
Also, my Direct Messages on Instagram are always open and I’m happy to help international students where I can.
If you’re going to the UK from North America, keep in mind that you may not be greeted by the friendly customer service you get at home. When you’re shopping at a store in North America, it’s normal for sales associates to be overly pleasant and greet you as soon as you walk in. In the UK, British people don’t typically like it when sales associates approach them. If you need help, you’ll have to go out of your way to ask for it and be clear in your request. 🇬🇧
The truth is, you can pack everything, submit every form, and study double for every test but there are some things that nothing can prepare you for. That’s what makes studying abroad so amazing, you’re forced to figure out things on your own in an entirely different part of the globe. It scared me so much at first but now, I know studying abroad was the best decision I ever made.
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