Engaging in an unfamiliar environment can feel foreign-- because it is! It can be a scary and exciting to establish yourself in a new city, a new country, and even a new continent. Developing relationships in your host community can make your transition a more positive experience and offer you a support group of friends, professional relationships, and maybe even a second place to call home.
Time in your destination country is limited. Don’t miss opportunities while you are there! By the end of your experience, it may feel as though your time in-country has gone by too quickly. Take time to acclimate to your surroundings and make the most of your time abroad by developing strong relationships. The bonds you build can help give you a stable connection to your host country and a network of people that can help you if and when you choose to come back.
Bonding with your cohort is important, but it can also make you dependent on Americans, and keep you within your comfort zone. So while it's important to get to know your cohort, don't let that stop you from befriending locals. Break the mold! Your cohort or study abroad group is great place to make connections that you can maintain when you return home, but remember-- you are studying abroad for a reason! Don’t rely on what is comfortable, this is a time to push yourself and explore what the world has to offer.
Don’t let a communication barrier stop you. Take time to strike up a conversation even if you don't know the language. People in your host community will most likely know you are foreign, and may not be fluent or familiar with your first language. Don’t be nervous about your lack of knowledge. The more you speak to others, the more you will learn and understand. Your efforts won’t go unnoticed!
Connecting with your host family or native flatmates can give you an in-country support group, incredible insight into the culture, and valuable life-long connections. Take time to sit with your host family each day, even just to watch television. Other cultures may place different value on family time and bonding between people who are sharing a space.
While it's not required, helping around the house here and there is a nice gesture that shows you are appreciative and a member of the household. In other cultures it may be customary for guests to try to help, even if the host will not let them. Your host family will most likely understand that you are student, and may not have much time to offer them. Making an effort will help your connection grow and offer you and your host family an ease in your relationship.
In many cultures, family is not only defined by the people you live with, but your extended family as well. To connect with your host family, try asking questions about other members of their family and their family history. You may be surprised by tales that have been passed down for generations, or accomplishments that the family takes pride in. This is a great way to learn about the culture while developing a deeper connection if you are planning to visit again.
Introduce yourself to students and professors. Universities are a great place to make friends with other students and gain connections in your community. Meeting people in a similar age group, and a similar stage in life, can give you exposure to how other education systems work while also giving you a great platform to establish friendships. Whether you are enrolled in a university, interning, volunteering, or studying at an institute, try visiting different departments of interest and introducing yourself to deans and professors. This can help you meet people in your field and offer possibilities of research, internships, and future collaborations.
Attend community events and explore your new area. Meeting people at local events is a great way explore different parts of the city, start conversation, and approach people from within their own community. This will help you get to know more people in your area, broaden your network, and learn more about the people and customs. Community events can also offer a bit of fun and give you a break from your studies or work abroad. You can search for events in local magazines, newspapers, Facebook groups, or community centers.
Ask questions, don't be shy! Most of the time, people are happy to share their culture and teach others. The fact that you are asking a question shows you are willing to learn. This simple tip will definitely pay off.
Take time to travel and explore other cities or parts of the country on weekends or during breaks. Your immediate community will offer you a lot, but don't be hesitant to expand your experience in your host country and travel to other areas. Check with other institutions to see if they have trips planned during the time of your visit. You can also check online to find companies or groups that offer hiking, camping, or nature walks. You can also plan a trip yourself! If possible, make your travel group a combination of students from within your cohort, and local friends or students you have made. This will not only make the trip more safe, but it will make it a more memorable experience.
Look up organizations, businesses, or places of interest and go! Making professional connections abroad is a great way to establish connections and develop your network. It can be as simple as finding an organization that interests you, walking in, and introducing yourself. People are interested in you because you always have something to offer. Be confident in your skills and see what opportunities come from your new network.
Engaging in your study abroad community is a fun and exciting way to add to your experience abroad, and grow your international network. The people and friends you meet will fill your time abroad with great company, help you learn more about your host culture, and continue to offer support even after your return home! Each time you visit a new country, challenge yourself to meet new people and your global community will expand. Use these tips and share them with friends before you start journey. You never know what great things will come your way!
Author: Isra Eldosougi