As I prepared for my three months in London at the end of this past summer, panic rushed through me. Scrolling through Facebook, tapping through Snapchat, and seeing all of my friends enjoying the beginning of junior year at my home university gave me major FOMO (fear of missing out). I began to question why I wanted to study abroad. Although the thought of spending the next three months in Europe was still appealing, the reality of being all alone an ocean away from my friends and family was frightening. I began to feel like I did during my freshman year of college, with all the same fears and worries. I was worried about whether or not I would make friends and if I would fit in.
So if you are beginning to feel a little wary about spending a term abroad, as I was, here are my tips to make the transition from home to abroad easier.
1. Build family abroad
IFSA-Butler programs give you the unique opportunity to directly enroll in a foreign institution, meaning that for the most part you have the same privileges and opportunities as a full time degree-seeking student. So make sure you take advantage of that status and dive right in. In fact, I would suggest treating your semester or year abroad like your freshman year of college and really put yourself out there. Don’t think that because you’re only abroad for a year or a few months that you can’t or shouldn’t join clubs—or “societies,” as they’re called in London.
No matter where you are in the world, meeting people who share similar interests with you through clubs and sports is always the easiest way to make friends. Although I felt a little silly walking through the freshman activities fair taking flyers and treats from clubs I would never join, it was a wonderful way for me to meet the members of the organizations I was interested in. I took a leap of faith, and was able to get involved with the University College London’s Christian Union through which I am building friendships and connections with people I would never have otherwise met.
Also, though you may have one or two serious clubs that you devote hours to in the States, consider using your time abroad to try out a new extracurricular activity. For instance, volunteering is restricted due to visa concerns in the U.K., so it’s hard for me to do the public service-based activities I’m normally involved with in the U.S. Instead I’m currently trying out the Jazz and Hip-Hop/R&B societies at UCL (a love of mine I never had the opportunity to explore back home).
2. Keep in touch with home
Set up FaceTime and Skype dates with friends and loved ones from home. Don’t feel guilty or silly when you want to call your mom or if you spend a few hours giving your best friend the lowdown on the social scene in the new country you call home. Even though I find it hard to connect with my friends and family because of the 5-hour time difference, I have found that the time I spend talking with friends back home helps to keep me grounded and prevent me from feeling alone. However, make sure you don’t dwell too much on home. Remember that for better or worse you are in a new country, ripe with adventure.
3. Take time alone
While you should use your time abroad to meet new people, you should also go on some adventures alone and take advantage of this opportunity to get to know yourself better! One of the best things about studying abroad is that it can be a great period for personal growth.
4. Reach out when you need it
Also remember that as you are adjusting to life in a new school, city, and country it’s normal to have off days. Don’t be shy about reaching out for help even if you’ve never done it before. Like the University College London, most colleges abroad will have a wealth of Mental Health services available to you if you need them. You can also use the IFSA-Butler team in your city/country as a resource if you’re looking for someone to talk to.
The time I spend talking with friends back home helps to keep me grounded and prevent me from feeling alone.
So if you’re nervous about your time abroad, know that it’s normal. This period will be a time for change, exploration and growth. Take advantage of the opportunities you get to venture beyond your comfort zone, and know that support can always be found if you need it.
Alicia Hamilton is a History student at Harvard University and studied abroad with IFSA-Butler at University College London in England in 2016. She is an International Correspondent for IFSA-Butler through the Work-to-Study Program.