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Preparing to Live Abroad

So, you’re really going!  What can you expect?  According to other students who have lived abroad, you can expect at least 3 things:

1. Some “Culture Shock"

Almost everyone who studies or works abroad goes through some degree of culture shock.  This is a period of adjustment to all that is new to you in this new culture. It involves everything from getting used to the food and language to learning how people in this culture socialize.  Here are some stages other students have experienced:  

  1. The Honeymoon: You are fascinated with everything new and take an active interest and enthusiasm in most everything you do.
  2. Disenchantment: You might begin to feel frustrated with all the newness and the inevitable difficulties and start to miss the familiarities of home. You might start to feel anxious or alienated and withdraw from or blame others. You might wonder, “Is this what I left home for?”
  3. Readjustment: The shock begins to wear off. With your new insights about the culture, you are increasingly comfortable. You find yourself smiling or laughing at mistakes and misunderstandings that before would have upset you. The key is to find a way to accept that differences exist and that some misunderstanding and conflicts are inevitable—and can even lead to growth.
  4. Feeling at Home: Finally, if enough goes well, you begin to feel at home in this new culture. You have developed some friendships and other supportive connections. Things are feeling familiar. You’re enjoying your time abroad, and even dreading a bit when you will have to leave.
2. Some Homesickness

Homesickness can occur at any stage while living abroad.  While it’s not a pleasant feeling, homesickness presents an opportunity to grow -- a chance to take more charge of your life and to learn new skills for dealing with your emotions and with others.  When you work to cope with homesickness, you can increase your sense of belonging, which leads to increased self-esteem and independence.  Here are some tips:

  • Accept that you are feeling a sense of loss and discomfort.  This is a common experience during transitions.  Allow yourself to make mistakes. It may take some time for you to feel comfortable, but remember you are capable of surviving this period of adjustment.  Just remain calm and patient as you adjust.
  • Contemplate. Ask yourself, “What’s missing?”  For some it may be conversations with family and friends, for others it may be climate or familiar food or surroundings.  Think about how you can begin to experience these things, if differently, in your new setting.  Find ways to appreciate the differences.  Share your experiences and expertise with one another for support.
  • Take action. Get involved in orienting activities (formal and informal).  Meet the locals. Get involved in local events, customs, and traditions.
  • Limit the amount of time you consciously think of home, by focusing on what you can do now while abroad.
  • Relax. Participate in activities that relax you such as listening to music, going for a walk, exercising with a friend, or just taking a few deep breaths.
  • Stay connected with home, but don’t overdo it. Balance your contact with family and friends with local connections. 
  • Ask for help. Whether you need directions to a place or someone to talk to, it is important that you ask for what you need.   
3. Some Re-Entry Stress

Just as you braced yourself for a period of psychological disorientation when you left the U.S., you should prepare yourself for a period of readjustment when you return 'home.' Why? Simply because, if you have had a full experience living and learning overseas, you are likely to have changed some while you have been away. The place you return to may itself appear to have changed, as indeed it might have. Even though these changes are seldom huge, and may not be apparent to others, you are likely to be very aware of them, and this can be confusing, especially if it is unexpected.  Here are some typical Re-Entry Phases:

  • Euphoria and excitement to be back home;
  • Disappointment that friends and family seem less interested in hearing about your experiences than you had expected;
  • Frustration that US culture is not perfect and that you are not adjusting “fast enough” and;
  • Integration as you synthesize your experiences and readjust to your new life at home

[For a fuller discussion, see the accompanying webpage on Returning from Study Abroad]

What if you need some counseling while abroad?

  • If you have been in counseling or are taking medication, talk with your provider(s)—before you leave about how to access services while abroad to help you maintain your health.
  • If while abroad you want to consider counseling, ask your program director or Loyola’s Office of International Programs for recommendations.

Consider Togetherall, a 24/7 confidential peer to peer mental wellness resource, free to all enrolled Loyola students. Register here today.

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