You’ve been awake for 20+ hours. On a plane for (at least) 10 of those. You desperately want a shower and a nap. But, it’s also your FIRST DAY ABROAD SO YOU’VE GOTTA GO, GO, GO! Depending on how well you're coping with the idea of being zillions of miles away from home for an extended period of time, this first day abroad might sound like your dream come true, or it might sound like your nightmare.
Some of your friends may feel like they've been waiting for this moment for so long nothing can spoil it. But some of your friends (and maybe even you?) might be struggling to quiet that tiny little voice in the back of your head that reminds you you’re a little scared to study abroad…
Alright, let’s get real. It’s normal to be nervous before study abroad. Sure, there are a probably few things that might go awry. Your luggage might not show up, you might not find your contact at the airport, maybe all the kids in your program will smell really weird???
But don't let the jet lag and the overwhelming smell of fresh bread get to you! Stop saying to yourself “I am scared to study abroad” and start telling yourself that you are a BAD@$% TRAVEL WARRIOR and NOTHING can stop you from seeing the world!
We asked our amazing meaningful travel experts to walk us through their first time studying abroad abroad, how they dealt with being scared to study abroad alone, and shakin’ jet lag and nerves. Here’s what they had to say! (Video transcript below)
You’ve been waiting for this moment for weeks. Months. Heck, maybe even YEARS.
You have absolutely no idea what to expect your first day abroad. Will it be the best day ever and go off without a hitch? Will it be the worst day of your life? (Uhm—unlikely). Will you even survive?
YES, DEFINITELY. Though it turns out those first 24 hours are a little different for everyone—
Except for the feeling slightly dazed and confused part...
We’re meaningful travelers, and here’s our rundown of what YOU can expect on day one: the good, the bad, and the ugly.
IT’S THE FIRST DAY OF THE REST OF YOUR LIFE [ABROAD]. Everything is new. Nothing hurts. And you’re about to have the best day. You’re riding high. Literally nothing could go wrong.
The airport pickup. You come down the stairs towards baggage claim and there they are waiting for you! They alleviate some serious stress about getting from the airport to the campus and city you’ll be calling home for the next few weeks or months. *phew* Thank God they’re there.
Meeting your crew. New friends galore! You’re either meeting your fellow study abroaders at the airport, on your way into town, or once you start moving into your new digs—this might include meeting your host family! But, with so many smiling and excited faces, you’re bound to make fast friends that you’ll keep for life.
Exploring your new campus. Look at the birds! And the trees! And the flowers! And that one building that was definitely in Harry Potter?! How CUTE are their accents? And that new bench? That’s definitely where you’re gonna be studying.
Exploring your new city. There’s going to be so many adorable doorways and ‘grammable moments that you won’t know where to begin. But, don’t worry! You’re going to be there for months, so you don’t have to snap every picture on your first day. Find your new fave coffee spot, your corner market, and the garden pub for a drink after a long afternoon of classes.
Not great, but you can definitely handle it. These might toss a wrench in your plans of a totally perfect first day, but your plane-hair isn’t as greasy as you think. So, don’t let it hold you back.
Language barriers. Oh man, remember that pesky little thing—that quiz you forgot to study for? WELL NOW EVERYTHING IS A QUIZ YOU DIDN’T STUDY FOR. Even if you have a pretty good grasp of your host country’s native language, it can still be a struggle to adjust to it at first. You’ll probably feel like everyone is talking a mile a minute—well, I guess a kilometer a minute—for your first few weeks. But don’t worry, you’ll train your ear to get used to it.
Did that Chinese guy say what I think he said?! Did you actually say pregnant instead of embarrassed? (Definitely done that before…)
Placement exams. So, not everyone will have to take a placement exam, but if you plan on studying a language abroad (whick you definitely should), you’ll probably have to take a placement test to asses your skill level and put you in the appropriate class. Get ready for it to be preeeetty tough.
I guess you didn’t picture yourself sweating this much while you were abroad, huh?
You forgot… What do you mean we needed a towel and twin sized sheets? Ruh-roh! This is the great fear of travelers everywhere—forgetting something important! It’s bound to happen. You’ll definitely forget something.
This can really put a damper on day one, but luckily, this usually has an easy solution. Just take a trip to the market or ask your study abroad support staff for help.
Everything hurts now and you just want to take a nap.
Jet. Lag. Don’t be surprised if you’re suffering from a serious case of the sleepies. You’ve got to adjust to your new time zone—and no, you can’t just lay down and go to sleep for 12 hours and think that’s gonna be okay. So, drink another quick espresso and toss some cold water on your face. Stay awake and make it through day 1! No matter what!
Getting spammed with texts from your parents. They’re worried. So respond to them, but don’t give them the play-by-play. Just send them a happy photo or an “I made it! Let’s talk later this week” text and call it good?
The newness of it all. You’re so excited to explore your new surroundings, but it’s probably pretty overwhelming as well, because you have no idea where you’re going. It’s okay. Inhale. Exhale. Keep your map handy. Relax and try to soak it all in. Don’t worry, you’ll be strutting your stuff down these cobblestoned streets like you were born here in no time.
How to prepare for your first day/our last advice
Relax, unpack, and get settled in.
Be open and stay calm. You might feel very, very nervous. It’s okay! It’s natural to feel like that, everyone does. Odds are there’s someone around you, whether it be a fellow study abroad-er or a program coordinator, who knows exactly how you’re feeling. So, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, be honest about it! Don’t put too much pressure on yourself! It’s going to take time to figure it out, so just take it easy.
I think every single person who has studied abroad has seen a movie or a tv show about studying abroad and they’re expecting their experience to be that shiny, and magical, and you’re living in reality. So, just take the experiences as they come and they’re not always going to be awesome, but at the end of the day you’re going to have a really cool, real experience to take back home with you.
Say YES to everything! But keep it within reason. There are certain things that might be a little out of your comfort zone, but trying them can really help open you up to new experiences. Once this experience is done you can’t get it back and you should be trying to leave your comfort zone as often as possible. Try to get involved as much as possible and you’ll soon make new friends and feel great!
Write down your feelings—journal about it! It’s a lot to process, so it can be helpful to write it out. Then you have something you can look back on and laugh and smile about.
Today was fun, but guess what—your study abroad is only going to get better and better and better and better! So get ready and get excited.
Cheers to you! Enjoy your study abroad!
More resources if you’re feeling scared to study abroad
If you’re still a little nervous before studying abroad—especially if you’re studying abroad alone, we’re here to help!
The boy scouts are onto something with that “always be prepared” schtick. So here are some more resources to help you have the BEST first day studying abroad.
- Read our ebook for first time study abroad-ers
- Here are 6 ways to get involved in your study abroad country
- American students studying abroad—do not make these stupid mistakes
- For good measure… people to avoid on your study abroad trip
If you just can’t get enough, keep reading our entire directory expert articles for study abroad. Not so scared to study abroad, now, are you? Soon, you’ll be a study abroad pro.
Make the most of it—from day one
It’s a lot to take in. You’re jet lagged, you think you smell worse than you actually do, and you’ve got to take in an incredible amount of information in a short amount of time. Day one might not be perfect, but it is the start to an unforgettable adventure. Be present. Don’t take anything for granted. And, seriously—STAY. AWAKE.