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Study Abroad
Student-to-Student

Seven Ways to Succeed

Study Abroad Is Not for the Easily Discouraged

Studying abroad in any country is the opportunity of a lifetime, something that every student should try. But study abroad can also be a difficult experience, not for those who are easily discouraged. The following tips derive from my own experience.

1. You cannot fully experience another country if you don’t leave home behind. Study abroad is cultural immersion; so while you are in another country focus on getting in as deep as you can. If you are preoccupied with what’s going on at home, this will be difficult to do. Avoid constantly talking on your cell phone to people at home or spending too much time on the Internet as it will isolate you from your group, your host family, and the culture around you. You may miss the world you are in if you are preoccupied with the one you’ve left behind. While everybody gets homesick during study abroad and wants to talk to family and friends at home, you will have a harder time adapting if you don’t live in the here and now.

2. It is up to you to make the effort. You have made a choice to study in another country. As always in life, nobody can set the goals but you. If what you want is to be fluent in the language, you have to practice. If you want to make new friends with the people of your host country, you have to go out and meet them.

3. Let go of your pride and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. It is natural for anyone learning a new language to make mistakes. This is how we learn. Don’t be afraid to speak to people even though what you want to say may not always come out right. Communication is the goal here, and the more you practice speaking with people, the larger your vocabulary and the greater your ability to express yourself will become.

4. Homestay is the way to go. Living with a local family is invaluable. They are an immediate support structure in the community, as well as the easiest people with whom to practice the language. A homestay provides you with the opportunity to gain an immediate perspective on everyday culture and is likely to leave you with some close personal relationships.

5. Be 10 times more polite than you would be normally. People are more likely to be helpful and patient if you are nice and polite. Learn the proper customs so as not to embarrass yourself or offend anyone. If you are staying with a family, make sure to clean up after yourself, make your bed, and always be courteous when talking with them.

6. School is important, but so is the cultural experience. We all like to get good grades and do well in school, but if all you want to learn about the culture is in the classroom, you could have stayed home. Challenge yourself socially. Try things you’ve never tried before. Studying the language is good, but using the language in conversations with native speakers is better. Do not stress yourself out over your schoolwork. You will make yourself miserable and miss out on a lot of fun.

7. Learn to laugh. A good sense of humor can be your best asset. Remember that not only are you meeting people from a different country and culture, but you also may be studying with all types of people from your own country. Many differences between cultures can be comical. The same words can mean different things in each language. Be able to laugh at yourself and at awkward situations and you will have an easier and more pleasant experience.

Everyone has bad days when they may want to return home. These days will pass. Do not squander the time you have; rather, keep in mind that you are one of the few fortunate people who get to experience study abroad. Go learn about the world and, most importantly, have fun.