This post was contributed by Katie Moularadellis.
Five things I learnt in my first week on a semester abroad (aka the advice I desperately looked for on the internet when I was abroad and couldn’t find).
- You WILL feel homesick (but here are some tips to fight it)
Look, coming into this, I thought I’d be fine. I was raring to get out of home, to explore the world, and to be independent. But when I finally got all those things, I was overwhelmed. Now, waking up and having a little sniffle because you’re not home is completely normal, but what helped me, and what will hopefully help you, is keeping distracted. When I was at home, I was so busy all the time, so I craved those moments of peace and quiet to be alone with my thoughts. Abroad, however, I only look for peace and quiet if I want to have a bit of a cry. Because being alone with your thoughts in that first stage can mean a whole lot of homesickness will come flooding in to remind you that yes you are far away from everything familiar. Staying busy helps you combat this; attending tours, meeting new people, shopping to kit out your new dorm (note to self: pick up a mirror and a bedside table lamp). And once classes are in full swing, you’ll be distracted from your homesickness with homework (what joy)
- 1.1 Find something from home that smells familiar (yeah yeah its weird but it works)
Sometimes, you just need a little bit of familiarity. Whether it’s a perfume, or the same washing powder that your mum uses, or cooking that one dish that gives you Ratatouille-esque flashbacks, the scent of something familiar can be incredibly calming and soothing.
- 1.2 Know that you’ve worked hard to get to this point, so it would be a waste to go home!
Homesickness is debilitating, no doubt about it. But thinking of the amount of work it took to get where you are can help put in perspective why exactly you’re there. Whether it was working two jobs to save the cash, or getting through the mountain of required paperwork, you did that work because you wanted to be here.
- 1.3 Finding a way to express how you feel will make help infinitely
This is sort of a flow on from keeping distracted but has the added bonus of expressing those hard feelings. Knitting, journaling, cooking, making fun little videos – finding a way to be creative and maybe even make something you’re proud of is a great way to feel a bit more settled.
- Every other study abroad student is feeling the exact same things that you are
Walking into the study abroad orientation can be a little bit intimidating. A lot of new people from a lot of different places. But you have something in common with them all: you’re all a long way from home, and desperate to make some new friends. So, don’t be afraid to approach people and ask them where they’re from. Chances are they will be just as relieved as you to have someone to talk to. Which I know sounds like the most general advice I could give, especially when you’re probably already feeling anxious. But it is true. Besides, you’ve already pushed yourself outside of your comfort zone by leaving home, what’s talking to a few strangers going to do? If you’re really worried about talking to people, see if there is an Erasmus AEGEE chapter in your town, or an international student’s association. These groups also come with the added bonus of throwing really awesome parties (from experience, attending one of those is a sure-fire way to meet people)
- Setting yourself up is eXpeNSivE
There are a lot of hidden costs that come with moving into a student dorm that aren’t really discussed. If you’re coming from overseas, chances are you haven’t packed a lot of the stuff necessary for life on your own. In my first few days, I had to purchase bedding (pillow, quilt, sheets, and quilt cover/pillow case) as well as towels, washing powder for the washroom, and toilet paper (because you have to have your own!). Setting up your section of the pantry can also run you up a few dollars, but by making these investments now at the beginning of exchange, you’re saving yourself a lot of hassle throughout.
- Unpacking can make you feel more at home
Repeat after me. I WILL NOT LIVE OUT OF MY SUITCASE FOR MY EXCHANGE. Living out of your suitcase, even for a small while, will not help you settle in. As scary as it is to unpack and put everything where it belongs (because, yes, that means you’re staying), its ultimately the right thing for your wellbeing, and will help you settle in more in the long run. And besides, once you’ve unpacked, it means you have a home base from which to launch all your other travels from.
- The first week is the hardest
Exchange is daunting and scary, but honestly it’s all uphill. Your first week filled with bureaucracy and new experiences is terrible (let’s not mince words here), but the next week will be a little less terrible, and the next will be a little less etc until you realise that, hey I’m actually enjoying myself. This experience will be life changing and you will have the time of your life, trust me.
Meet Katie: an Australian girl in the big city, Katie is currently on a semester abroad in Stuttgart, Germany. Whether it be partying with the local international students or jetting off to explore all Europe has to offer, she plans to make the most of her short time abroad. Keep up with her on IG.