Cultural Experience | Resources

11 Tips to Mentally Prepare for a Semester Abroad

Because a semester across the world is kind of a big deal. 

The time leading up to a study abroad is a tumultuous blend of anticipation and excitement. It’s daunting to face such a vast unknown when all you can do is wait. So how do you deal with that? The adjustment process is different for everyone, but here are some ways to start wrapping your mind around the upcoming changes:

1. Ignore it until it happens.

In the true nature of a college student, procrastinate. Choose to actively ignore all of the nerves and feelings of anxiety. There are too many unknowns to living overseas to be adequately processed before you leave, so don’t. If you take life day by day, eventually you’ll find yourself overseas and adjusted. Until then, ignore it; stressing doesn’t make the process any easier.

2. Choose excitement over fear.

Instead of dwelling on all the things that make you nervous, focus on all the exciting opportunities you have coming up. Living overseas is thrilling. Remember that all the things that scare you could potentially be the most worthwhile. So don’t let your nerves hold you back from chasing after what you want. Fear is a choice. Bravery is also a choice.

3. Prepare as much as possible.

Learn key phrases in the language. Read up on cultural norms. Figure out how public transportation works. Any of the things that can actually be done ahead of time, do them. Then stop and don’t worry or stress about the things you cannot change or control (refer back to step one).

4. Don’t set expectations.

Having a set idea of what your time abroad is supposed to look like is a surefire way to end up disappointed. Everyone’s experience is unique and it’s not fair to compare your time or location to somebody else’s. Traveling is beautiful but unpredictable. Appreciate it for what it is instead of trying to make it something that it’s not. 

5. Learn to say yes.

You didn’t decide to study abroad so that you could continue living inside of your comfort zone. There is no point in flying overseas for any length of time if you’re just going to recreate the life you live at home. Say yes to the challenges of living abroad; try new foods, introduce yourself to locals, fail at using the language. Say yes to impromptu trips, unforgettable memories, and unparalleled growth.

6. Make a list.

This is for those of us that like to feign a sense of control over our lives. It could be anything: a packing list, a travel bucket list, a list of useful words to know in the native language. The important thing is that it organizes a few of the thousands of thoughts racing around your head at any given time and it helps make the future actions required a little clearer. That list could serve no purpose and you could never look at it again, but if the physical task of putting pen to paper can bring a sense of clarity or an eased mind, then it’s worthwhile.  

7. Make plans on how to keep in touch.

One of the hardest parts of leaving is the people you’ll leave behind when you go, so figuring out how you are going to stay in contact can help ease any anxiety that may come with that. The first thing to consider is the time change; no one really wants to wake up for a 3 am skype call. Something else to consider is getting a VPN, or a verified private network, to ensure that you will have access to your desired social medias if they’re not available in your host country. You should decide between an international phone plan or a local phone and number. There are also some convenient apps that are free to download, like Whatsapp and Wechat, that allow you to send messages, pictures, and even make phone calls when connected to wifi. So while it may be intimidating to step out into the unknown alone, you can find security in knowing you have a plan and ways to keep in touch.

8. Practice positive self-talk.

Don’t let fears or insecurities get in the way of being excited for your trip. So what if you don’t know anyone, or don’t speak the language? Practice telling yourself nice things. You are capable. This is what you wanted. The things you will experience abroad will be worth missing some things back home.  You can do it. It’s okay. You’re okay. Get used to telling yourself what you need to hear and use that affirmation to face the upcoming semester with confidence.

9. Visualize things going well.

Keeping the idea of a positive mindset, apply it to visualizing how you want your time abroad to look. This is not the same as having expectations; visualizing is taking a specific event and imagining that each step goes smoothly and as planned. Picture yourself effectively navigating the airport or communicating successfully in your new language. Use this tool as a way to gain confidence to step out of your comfort zone; you imagine that each new activity or procedure will be executed proficiently and then you do it.

10. Accept that life is dynamic.

Life is made up of seasons and each new season brings change. However long it is that you’ll be abroad, it will impact you tremendously and inevitably. You will be changed. While you’re gone, other things will change as well. What you return home to won’t be the same as what you left. And that’s okay. Accept that life is constantly evolving and that all you have is today. You can’t rush the season that you’re in or hold on to one that has passed. But that’s part of life’s charm.

11. Be thankful.

Be so incredibly, overwhelmingly thankful. Every opportunity to travel, let alone live abroad, is something that very small percentage of people get to experience. Counter any feelings of anxiety by reminding yourself how blessed you are to have that chance.

More: 33 Signs You Were Meant to Study Abroad.




Tips To Mentally Prepare For A Semester Abroad

Featured Image Credit to Trent Broeckel @trentacular10 on Instagram

Kelli Meyer

Texas A&M University | 8 stories

Howdy, I'm a junior international politics major at Texas A&M University. I have loved traveling since I first went to Africa for a mission trip when I was 15. I spent this past summer interning with a nonprofit in the south of Spain, and this coming spring I will be spending my semester in China. I'm psyched to share some of my adventures and perspectives through College Tourist.

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