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10 study abroad problems you will face – and conquer!

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No matter how much we might wish it was, nothing is entirely perfect, and while study abroad comes pretty darn close, it’s not without its problems. Whether it’s the cultural norms that are tripping you up, the fact you’re missing home like mad, or that you’re lacking motivation for your studies, international students experience a number of challenges unique to their new life overseas.

But a road bump here and there doesn’t have to derail you or detract from your experience abroad. The best way to mitigate potential problems is to feel prepared to face them. Read on to learn how to give 10 tough study abroad problems the 1-2-kick in the butt!

1. Homesickness

You never thought you would say it, but you ACTUALLY miss your baby sister, you ACTUALLY miss Mum’s terrible cooking, and you ACTUALLY regret not packing your favourite stuffed animal for the long journey overseas. It’s perfectly normal and healthy to feel homesick, just don’t let it become a crippling part of your experience abroad. Your support networks are still there!

How to conquer it!

There are a number of ways to quiet down the loud voices in your head reminding you just how far away from home you really are. Get involved in new interests, clubs or adventures at your study abroad destination; call up friends/family/advisors for a bit of advice and an ear to listen; find a taste of home by hitting up the local Starbucks (or whatever friendly food joint you recognise from home) and treating yourself to a Coffee; start practicing yoga; meditation; journaling or any other self-awareness activity.

Most importantly, be sure to avoid spending hours perusing Facebook or any other social media websites – this is counterproductive and actually feeds your feelings of homesickness, as opposed to making them better.

2. Getting lost

No matter how many maps you pour over or street names you memorise, it’s inevitable that you’ll find yourself in a sticky situation in an unfamiliar place. That’s right, you’re going to get LOST.

How to conquer it!

First of all, don’t panic! Your initial response might be to freak out, but even if it’s late in the night or you’re stuck in a sketchy part of town, you WILL get through this!

Come prepared for any adventure with lots of handy maps. Write down helpful phrases in the local language pertaining to your situation, such as “Help me, I am lost” or “Can you please direct me to the nearest hotel/gas station/bus stop?” Travel guidebooks are especially helpful and usually contain a section dedicated to this problem.

If you are extra travel-savvy, you should also keep a stash of emergency cash, perhaps at the bottom of your purse, for these very situations.

3. Running low on cash

Uh-oh! Despite all your best efforts to plan ahead, budget, and track your expenses throughout the semester, you may have had one too many gelato scoops or splurged a bit too much on that weekend in Santorini. No one can blame you for running your bank account to its double digits. Even so, it’s your responsibility to stretch your cash until your return home.

How to conquer it!

Before leaving on your study abroad program, consider setting aside an extra 200-300 of your home currency and leave it safely at home. Give your parents access to it, so should you need to tap into your reserves, they can help transfer the money into your account.

Once you catch on that your funds are quickly dwindling, it’s time to pump the breaks. Be sure only to purchase the necessities versus the desires. If all else fails, hit up the Bank of Mum and Dad for an advanced birthday gift or loan – they won’t want their baby to suffer while they’re miles away from home (but as we say in England- don’t take the Michael…and be sure to put them in a really good nursing home later on in life…).

4.  Having serious FOMO

FOMO, or the fear of missing out, is more or less a by-product of doing one thing instead of something else. We deal with FOMO in our everyday lives even back home (ever been invited to two parties in one night?!), but FOMO takes a drastic turn for the worse when you are thousands of miles away from the action.

How to conquer it!

Do yourself a HUGE favour and minimize the time you spend cruising around the internet. That weekend shindig or football game might have looked amazing from a distance, but it’s ultimately the same old scene in the same old town in the same old dramatic fashion.

This isn’t to belittle the exciting things happening to your friends back home, or to say your life is comparatively more interesting. But when you look at the bigger picture, your weekend in Paris probably outdid another weekend waking up full of regrets after a big night out.

There is an opportunity cost for everything in life, and if you constantly let your mind drift to “What if this?” and “What if that?”, you’ll never feel content. Shut your laptop. Get outside and explore. Who has FOMO now?

5. Staying motivated to attend classes

You have had but a taste of this great, big, beautiful world and are, in a word, ADDICTED. How can your teachers possibly expect you to sit in a lecture hall, reviewing Italian vocabulary, when you could just as well be out exploring, checking out the museums, and actually USING your language skills?

How to conquer it!

Don’t kid yourself. You wouldn’t be actively studying during your wanderings around the city.

It is called “study” abroad for a reason, and by its very name requires an academic effort on the part of the student. Since you’re taking classes, it’s important that you stay committed to your coursework (otherwise you might lose your scholarship, crash your grade point average, or get kicked out of your programme altogether!).

Remember that your classes complement your exploring. While there is value in the act of living abroad in itself, if you’re to truly maximize the learning potential of the experience, you need to get your butt into the classroom!

6. Time zone annoyances

DISCLAIMER: Ripping hair out and/or punching a hole in the wall is NOT the best way to respond when your Skype dates fall through, when you have to wake up at 2am to call your bank during normal business hours back home, or your jet lag is positively insufferable.

How to conquer it!

Trying to navigate two time zones on opposite ends of the planet can be frustrating at best. You constantly have to double check which times are appropriate to which time zone, and get in the habit of making phone calls suuuuper early in the morning or pretty late into the evening.

If you carry a smart phone, it is advised to add any relevant time zones to your time keeping apps. Commit the time difference to memory (6 hours behind, 12 hours ahead of time + 1 day). The sooner you can do this, the easier things will be on your end – though you might still need to constantly remind your friends and family back home what time your FaceTime chats will be!

7. Not knowing what’s hip back home

One often overlooked side-effect of studying abroad is that your friends and family will be getting psyched about stuff you’ve never even heard of. While some  recount a disconnect from the Angry Birds movement as a blessing in disguise, others couldn’t help but feel like a martian when they returned home due to others’ disbelief at them being “out of the loop.”

How to conquer it!

Don’t fret – you’re not a nerd! Whether it be a game for catapulting bodiless green piggies, the latest Justin Beiber single, or the awesome new restaurant that opened in town, things will change and evolve during your time away. It’s important to accept this fact, and revel in knowing that your time out of the loop is temporary. Just tack it on your list of things to look forward to upon your return home – maybe your friends will host a “Get back in the swing of things!” event for you.

For some, this problem may actually be AWESOME. It is a tangible reminder that fads go away, as well as a cool opportunity to witness a craze that rapidly grows and fades away.

8. Feeling like an outsider

You suddenly look around and feel very alone. You’re surrounded by “others,” and your looks, your fashion, your inability to communicate in the local tongue, and your general presence is very obviously… different. Never before have you felt so out of place or disconnected.

How to conquer it!

Find peace in knowing it’s unlikely that the locals are deliberately trying to make you feel unwanted in their culture. While you are a stranger to this new land, you’ll start to feel comfortable in no time – it might just takes you a few weeks to adjust.

Try to make friends with at least one local. I know it sounds like an easy task, but it does take effort to establish and cultivate meaningful relationships, especially across cultural boundaries. Your efforts will be well-rewarded, though; you’ll gain a friend and an ally. This relationship might give you the foot in the door you need to start feeling safe and relaxed in your new country, instead of separated and awkward.

9. Language or cross cultural barriers

Did you order chicken only to be served the crispy head of a goat? Did you get on the train headed for Spain only to end up in Russia? Did you wave a friendly hand at a stranger only to be spat on? (EEK!)

Communication barriers are a reality of living abroad and making sense of foreigners’ lives. You can choose to let these follies stress you out, or you can take them in stride and chalk it up as another learning opportunity.

How to conquer it!

Make an honest effort to familiarize yourself with the local lingo and cultural norms. If you aren’t fluent in the host country’s first language, carry around a translation dictionary or fill up your smart phone with related foreign language apps. Befriend locals and ask for tips and advice for ways to more authentically interact with strangers.

At the end of the day, you shouldn’t let the fear of offending someone or speaking incorrectly keep you from interacting healthily within the host culture. You will learn with time, and if you’re patient with yourself (and conscious not to repeat mistakes, lest you get spat in the face TWICE), you’ll feel like a bi-lingual superhero before you know it.

10. Wanting to stay forever

You’ve fallen in love with this new place. You love everything about it – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the energy. More importantly, you love the YOU that lives here. You feel more confident and self-assured than ever, and you are dreading the thought of returning home to family pressures, expectations, and responsibilities defined by others. You love the freedom, the adventure.

How to conquer it!

Everything in life is a learning opportunity, and returning home is a crucial part of your overall study abroad experience. Without returning home, you won’t be forced to confront the newfound changes in yourself that you gained whilst abroad.

The key is to take home with you the feelings of ecstasy and freedom that you found in your life abroad. Don’t confuse the two locations as being polar opposites, whereby in one you are your best self and in the other you are simply pining for the former.

P.S. Return trips are ALWAYS an option. You might even consider moving abroad permanently or semi-permanently someday. The possibilities are endless!

Now you’re ready to anticipate common study abroad problems and take them in your stride, you can focus on what is most important – having FUN. Enjoy your semester abroad!

Image via Flickr

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