You are at the airport. Your suitcase is about to explode. Your passport is in your hands. You have already “say goodbye” to your friends and to your family. Last call for your flight, it is time to go.
A new life abroad awaits you. Be it a study exchange program or an internship abroad, you are probably excited. But suddenly hundreds of doubts assail you. Do not worry! It is normal, just breathe.
Two weeks ago, I left my country. For the second time in my life, I moved abroad.
I was as nervous as the first time. Have you seen the film “Inside Out”? In my mind, a struggle between joy and fear was unravelling.
When I arrived abroad, I found out that some fears were totally unfounded and others quite easy to overcome.
As you maybe share my same fears, I have put them together, along with some tips on how to overcome them.
Fear #1: I am going to live in a horrible apartment with boring people
Finding proper accommodation is the first issue that you must overcome. You have just arrived, you do not know how to get around in the city, maybe you do not even speak the local language very well. Searching for an apartment can be quite stressful. You can look for an accommodation on the web, but it is difficult to make decisions without seeing it in person. Moreover, you do not have the possibility to meet your flatmates.
Top tips: If you search on the web, ask for a Skype call in order to see the apartment and meet your future flatmates, even it is only online. Ask them about cleanliness, about curfews (usually young people don’t have any, but if you are looking for a quiet place to study, ask about parties, noise). If you have any allergies (e.g. against pets), be sure to inquire about that, too. Some apartments even have “fridge” rules set up, such as for example that everyone has to cook once a week. If you are vegetarian, for example, finding out about things like these in advance can help.
An alternative could be finding accommodation when you arrive through an agency. It is a little bit more expensive, but you can see the apartment and avoid any surprises.
Fear #2: I am going to feel lonely
Your friends are a million miles away. When you arrive, you are worried about not being able to meet people and having to spend all your time alone. Whether you go abroad with a student exchange program, or through an internship, or even just to travel, it is easy to find friends from all over the world. I assure you! You are going to share amazing moments with your fellow students or colleagues.
Top tips: Everybody is in your same situation, so don’t be shy. I recommend joining forums or Facebook groups in order to get to know people before or when you arrive. Staying in a hostel for the first couple of days, before you finding a longer term apartment, can also be an option. If you are living in Spain, for example, there are student groups that organize language exchanges, also called intercambios, which will allow you to meet other students. You can drink something and talk with people in the language that you prefer. You can also check out platforms such as Meetup.com, specifically created for allowing you to connect and meet up with people of similar interests.
Fear #3: Nobody will understand me
Language could be a barrier. Making mistakes is normal, do not be ashamed. It is important to learn from them.
Top tips: Ask people to correct you in order to understand your weak points. If you have a television at home, watch cartoons or the news in the local language. They tend to speak slowly and with no accent. It could be very useful! There are also a great variety of apps that can help you with learning the language. Check out Mosalingua, for example.
Fear #4: I am going to miss home
Skype, Whatsapp, Facebook… getting in touch with people in another country has never been so easy!
Top tips: Nowadays various phone operators have phone flat rates that allow you to call foreign numbers. In Spain, for example, for only 12 euros per month, you have limitless international calls with Tuenti. Go to a store in country or Google online before you go. There are many options.
Fear #5: I am going to miss my home country’s food
I am Italian..as you can imagine, food is one of the most important things for me. How can I survive without pizza and homemade pasta? It is not easy at all. My advice is: enjoy the food of your new country, try new tastes and try to broaden your horizons. You may discover that there are dishes as tasty as the ones of your home country.
Top tips: pack some of your home country’s food in your suitcase! I always take Parmesan cheese and homemade pesto sauce with me. Be sure to check out customs regulations though; you cannot take liquids or foods to the U.S., for example. Also, another option is check out your home country’s restaurants in the city you are going to (e.g. Italian restaurants in Madrid, there are some good ones!) or to check out country-specific supermarkets. One of my fellow journalists here has written a great piece on American supermarkets in Madrid, for example.