How to adjust in a Foreign Land - Living abroad or going to a new country to study is one of the hardest things to adjust to in life. However, it’s also one of the most fulfilling things that you can do if you decide to approach it the right way. You have to adapt to a new culture, new time zone, make new friends – sounds a great effort! The harder fact is that you probably have to leave all your family, friends and everything you have known behind.
It is hard initially, but if you wish to fully embrace the opportunity then value of being independent, learning to live on your own and the responsibility that comes with it as well as the broadening of horizons by meeting new people and being exposed to a new culture is something like a priceless experience for a young person. It will certainly hold him in good stead for the rest of his life.
Make up your mind!
I have had to adjust to a new environment twice in my life. Once when I moved from the UK to Delhi as a young adolescent and then again when I went back to London for University as a young adult. Both these experiences have led to great learning for me and I am glad that I did them both, even though, initially they were hard to cope with. I think that one of the things I did right and I recommend to others is to quickly embrace what you have around you. There is little point thinking ‘oh but we did it like this back home’ because you are not at home. A new place will not bend to your will. You will have to bend first. There is a lot said about culture and upbringing but it is very important to realise that just because something is different, it is not necessarily wrong. This thought process will help young people adapt quickly to all facets of living in a new place, whether that is people, process or situations.
Be friends with natives
It is always good to make friends with someone from the area. They have lived there all their lives and can tell you everything you need to know about a new place, including how to be street smart and careful in places that you are not familiar with. Adventure needs to always be allied with a degree of caution and there is no better knowledge than local knowledge to help you.
Step out of comfort zone
Every new college has a new culture. Be part of it. Accept it. Yes, there is always a lot of pressure to fit in and generally I have seen that students tend to seek out students similar to them in a new environment. This is fine if you go to the colleges in the bigger cities, where almost all nationalities are represented but in smaller colleges you will just have to blend in. It isn’t easy. Getting out of your comfort zone is hard but it is something that I think you must do. See, if you can take up a part time job. That always helps integrate you into a place where there are people and in campuses in the US and Australia, you may be able to get a job on campus which would be ideal.
Brush up country knowledge
Pick up the newspaper regularly. Read about what is happening in the country and ensure that you are updated with the relevant current affairs that affect people where you are. This always helps you to make conversation and introduce yourself to new people. It’s a vital habit in my opinion if you are going to be a good student, but also if you are going to be sociable and friendly. There is the old joke about meeting British people and asking them about the weather because the stereotype says we Brits are obsessed by it. It’s not entirely true but it will always help. Nothing starts a conversation all across the UK like the weather!
Avoid food fixations
Embrace the food culture. This is really important too. You have to learn to find food around which is common to the area and explore the variety it has. Food is something so important and I believe it’s attached to our mental as well as physical health. We are eating happy, we are happy.
Participate in social activities
Join the clubs and societies on the campus that encourage people of similar interests to get together to showcase their talent in specific activity. Movies, TV show, sports, food, drink, travel, politics, you name it, it will be there. It’s a good platform to mingle with like-minded lot who could be as obsessed as for something that immensely interests you - So let it be the ice breaker.
Connecting back home
Obviously, you are not cutting yourself off from everyone back home. When I was a student, I know how hard it was for poor students wanting to get in touch with their loved ones in India. Nightmare. Phone cards, poor dial-up internet lines, letters which meant visiting the post office and fax machines. Today there are no such problems. Email is everywhere and even though calling is still relatively expensive, it’s not restrictive enough anymore to make you think 20 times before reaching for that phone card. Skype, Facetime, Whatsapp, Google Hangouts-- all offer excellent chat and video calling services for free. Today internet is more prevalent than landlines and the speed is always good enough for conversations from just about anywhere. Add to this the multitude of Indian news channels and entertainment that you now get online and on TV, around the world, and you cannot feel cut off from events at home even if you tried!
Life in abroad should be seen as a challenge. If a young person going through his studentship decides to take on this challenge positively, then it can be one of the most important choices of his life. It can give you a whole new set of experiences and really help you see the world through a different perspective. It is something that I certainly recommend highly if you get the opportunity.
The author is the Head Academics at Whistling Woods International
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