How to Culturally Prepare for Studying Abroad

Today’s blog post comes to us from University of Alabama student & API Global Leader Anna Johnson! She studied abroad with us in Florence, Italy in the fall of 2018.

Traveling abroad can be nerve-racking for a number of reasons.

Will I be able to communicate with others? How will I get around? How will I handle my money? All of these questions are valid, but the question of how you will culturally assimilate is relevant as well. When you are the minority in a foreign country, it can be challenging. Doing the proper research beforehand and preparing yourself for the trip will help you make the most of the experience. I’ll provide a few tips in this blog to help you along the way!

1. Do research on the country you’re visiting to get an idea of the cultural climate.

A simple google search can help you find a lot of information! if you’ve planned a trip abroad, you’ve probably already done a great bit of research on the country of interest. But digging a little deeper into the country’s culture and history is important. It doesn’t have to be too extensive, and depending on your level of concern, an overview of the country’s history, demographics, cultural norms and so on could be a great way to get the assurance you need.

Something minor that many people don’t think about before departure is hair care, skin care, medications, clothing, etc. while abroad. For me, hair care and skin care were a major concern. My bathroom is crowded with beauty products and I was unsure whether or not my host country would have my typical products. Sure enough, they didn’t, and they probably won’t in most cases. So, be sure to bring enough supply with you to last for the duration of your trip. Another pro tip is to check and see if Amazon in that country has the products that you need. If so, you may be able to save some space in your luggage and stock up while you’re there.

2. Ask program leaders, faculty members, alumni or other organizers about their experience.

While you’re preparing for your trip, be sure to raise any questions or concerns that you may have to those running the program or excursion. They may not have an answer for you, but they can probably direct you in the direction of someone who does. As well, simple asking these individuals about their experiences abroad can help you gain a better idea of what is ahead. Also, if you have any family members or friends who have been to the country you will be visiting, ask for their story as well to create a more holistic image.

3. Try to find ways to implement the culture of the country you’re visiting beforehand, in order to make the transition easier.

Culture shock can be difficult or many to deal with, especially since it comes in gradual stages. Attempting to offset this shock by implementing small parts of the culture you will be immersed in can be a great way to get the most out of your trip. This could be by practicing the language which people speak wherever you are going, preparing foods from that culture’s cuisine or walking/exercising more if you will not have a vehicle available to you. Though these can be small changes to your daily lifestyle, they can certainly help you begin to assimilate even before you depart.

4. Be open-minded.

This seems simple, but when you’re dropped into a culture completely dissimilar from your own, it can be hard to keep this mindset. Realizing the value of what you are experiencing and being present in that moment can help you stay open-minded. Be respectful of learning, and willing to adapt and your trip will go all the more smoothly. Plus, even if being open-minded isn’t a typical characteristic for you, simply traveling abroad has already improved that skill for you. Take it day by day and just make the most of every opportunity and experience.

5. Relax!

Don’t worry, its going to be okay! It can be an overwhelming process and there’s probably a lot of anticipation and anxiety leading up to your departure. But, more than likely, once you land everything will be less dramatic than you thought. Your experience abroad is what you make of it, so try to relinquish control and simply “go with the flow.”

Hopefully these tips have helped to ease your mind either a bit or a lot! Simply prepare for your trip physically mentally and emotionally and everything else will fall into place. Getting ahead of any confusion or conflict is the best way to mitigate and issues, so simple prepare, prepare, prepare… and then relax!

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