Cultural Experience | Resources

Dealing With Pre-Departure Doubt

Pre-Departure Doubt and How to Move Past It

In less than one week, I leave for Albania to intern and live in the capital, Tirana, for 9 weeks, and it is surreal how fast time has gone by. I have been looking forward to this amazing opportunity to explore such a unique and beautiful country for months, and now all of a sudden, it’s almost time to leave. You probably know the roller coaster of emotions felt about a week before departure – it seems like you still have a million and three things to accomplish; vague to-dos come and go from your consciousness before you can write them down; you have dozens of phone calls to make to airlines, credit card companies, host countries, etc.; and some parts of your life may feel like they are so totally disorganized that you can’t possibly be leaving the country so soon. Yet, amidst the chaos, you learn to enjoy the preparation process, and the excitement in anticipation of leaving on your once-in-a-lifetime trip keeps building and building. However, as the date of departure quickly approaches, a less pleasurable feeling seems to inevitably occur for many: pre-departure doubt.

It seems that no matter how excited you may be about your upcoming trip, as you get closer and closer to hopping on that plane, it’s not uncommon to start doubting yourself and your capabilities. Have you ever found yourself asking these questions right before you leave on a big trip to study, intern, or live abroad?:

• What if I’m not prepared for the different lifestyle?

• What if I can’t communicate with others to get what I need?

• What if I get lonely?

• What if I get sick from drinking the water?

• What if I don’t find or make any friends?

• What if I can’t get the right food?

• What if I miss my family and friends too much?

The scariest part is that though in reality, most of these concerns are nothing to actually worry about, we also know that these worries aren’t completely unfounded, either. For example, I’ve never owned an apartment before. My history of cooking and grocery shopping for myself has been short and very limited. I will have no other Americans around me. Besides very basic phrases, I don’t speak or know any Albanian. I’ve never been to a country with questionable drinking water. And I can’t ignore the fact that Tirana, as well as Albania as a whole, will in fact be very different from my comfortable college town here in America.

It’s so easy to let all of these “what-ifs” bog you down before you leave. It’s only natural to worry; you want to make sure that above all else, you’re happy, healthy, and safe while you’re abroad, and that’s not an unreasonable concern. Even if your worries are well-intentioned, though, they can get in the way of enjoying the preparation process, and sometimes it’s easy to forget what it feels like to be truly excited for the upcoming journey. So to help get over the period of pre-departure doubt that many of us inevitably experience, try doing the following things:

Remind yourself of times you’ve been resilient to change or hardship

Believe it or not, we’ve all experienced a little turmoil in our lives. Remember a time in your life that you’ve had to overcome something big – maybe you almost quit a class because it got too overwhelming, or maybe you had to move away from your close family to go to college. Whatever it is, remember that you’ve already looked adversity in the eye and faced it head-on, with great results to boot. Remember that yes, sometimes the going gets tough, but you’ve gotten through it before, and you can certainly do it again. You’re already more prepared for this than you think.

Realize what got you through those hardships

What got you through those hardships above? Skills. You have skills. Whether it’s assertiveness, mindfulness, reflection, or flexibility, remember that you possess the skills to deal with whatever (if any!) hardships may come your way on your future adventure. Recall how those skills were put into action, and how you might be able to use them on your upcoming trip. Skills such as self-awareness, connection, flexible thinking, self-regulation, and optimism will all help foster resiliency.

Try to learn as many basic phrases of the local language as possible

I wish I could speak all of the languages of the world, but alas, I can only speak 2 with decent fluency. For me, learning a new language is fun, and so I try to make it a challenge to learn as many phrases and words as I can before I leave. If your language is available on free services like Duolingo, take advantage of this! If the local language is something a little more obscure, like Albanian is for me, look up your own basic phrases you wish to know and make virtual flashcards with a service like Quizlet. Practice every day, and you’ll be surprised by how well you might get by once you arrive in your destination.


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Research and prepare

I am a researcher. Anything I’m about to buy, wear, or do, I look up something about it first to know I’m the most informed I can be. Knowledge is power, and often learning more about what exactly it is you’re concerned about and researching ways to prepare for and/or remedy the situation will help put you at ease. Try finding a news source from your host city or country in your native language to keep up-to-date with the politics and social happenings of where you’re about to live. Worried about loneliness? Look up meetups online in your location or plan to visit hostels in your city to meet other travelers. Concerned about the drinking water? Research and purchase a nice filtered water bottle that will help you relax at the thought of potential contamination.

Share your thoughts with an audience (no matter how big or small)

Consider blogging about your experience abroad through a free hosting service like WordPress or Blogspot, and/or vlogging about it on YouTube. Even if you’re the only one viewing your work, writing down and documenting your experiences online is a great way to get your thoughts down on “paper” and have a sense of communication and sharing with others across the globe. You’ll also have great documentation of your amazing experience to look back on for years to come!

innsbruck austria over mountains on top of the world study abroad image

Set up a regular time to communicate with family and friends

This is a majorly important action item for a number of reasons. First, by regularly communicating with loved ones, it will reassure them that you’re safe and sound, which is especially helpful if your parents or friends were resistant to the idea of you traveling abroad at first. Second, it will allow you to consistently connect with familiar faces and places and help combat any culture-shock or homesickness you might be feeling. If you do end up feeling a little lonely, this will make a huge difference in reminding you that you’re never completely alone, especially in our digital age. Don’t be afraid to tap into your support systems – often, you’ll be surprised by how much a quick Skype or phone call back home will boost your mood if you’re feeling blue.

Remind yourself that fear doesn’t rule you

If you had stayed away from everything you’ve ever been afraid of thus far, your life would already be filled with so many regrets, and this situation is no different. Remember that you are about to embark upon a journey that is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. You’re going abroad! Whether you’ll be teaching English, interning with a local organization, or simply traveling for leisure, this trip will be your chance to learn about others and be a representative of your home country while making your own kind of difference. Accept your fears, accept your doubts, and then make the decision to move on and just have fun!


Dealing With Pre-Departure Doubt image

Dealing With Pre-Departure Doubt


Claire Johnson

University of Michigan | 9 stories

Claire Johnson is an undergraduate student at The University of Michigan studying Biopsychology, Cognition, and Neuroscience. She has studied abroad in Austria and interned abroad in Albania. She also runs her own travel site for college students, The Wayfaring Collegiate. You can find these articles and more at

2 responses to “Dealing With Pre-Departure Doubt”

  1. Sarah says:

    I’ve definitely been in your position! It’s always scary for me until I actually land in a new place. Then I am fine. 9 weeks will go by way faster than you expect! You’re going to love it! Have fun!

  2. Helen Haile says:

    I love this. Thank you!

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