When studying abroad doesn’t turn out to be what you expected: the do’s and don’ts

My first month in Germany was great, fresh and exciting! I was an independent student abroad in the cozy little Bavarian town of Pfarrkirchen. The streets had neat pastel buildings that housed cute little coffee shops and I was already starting to build my multi-national group of friends. I was finally living my European dream and nothing would ruin it … until I met “her”.

“She” was a harmless looking woman in a store who I thought I could ask for help because she looked “motherly”. Of all the women in the store, I had chosen the meanest. She shattered my dream. It happened so fast! My request for help was met with an angry look, followed by sharp and loud accusations of me begging. My eyes widened in horror as I realized she thought I was asking for money I tried to explain, looked around for help but everyone purposely averted their eyes from me as the woman continued to lash out at me and point to my bag filled with cosmetics and frivolous self-care products.

I paid for my stuff at the counter and walked to my WG unable to hold the tears. Days past… I slowly started to notice differences in little things. Pfarrkirchen was actually not so perfect, neither was it cute. Why was it so impossible to make local friends? Why didn’t everyone mingle freely together like they did back home!? As winter came in it slowly morphed into a personal hell. This was NOT what I signed up for when I decided to study abroad.

If your experience student abroad experience is anything like mine, sometimes, our expectations of a new life abroad do not match up with the brutal reality. Moving into a new culture is hard and unfortunately, sometimes the people around us do not make it any easier. It is easy to quit and go back to a familiar life. But you will be missing out on the opportunity for growth these new challenges are giving you.

To help you navigate these “new opportunities” for growth, I have created a list of  some positive coping techniques that I have adopted which have brought me to a place where I feel I have started to enjoy it here.

  1. DO NOT be negative.

No matter what bad experience you go through ALWAYS stick to the positive thoughts. Once negative thoughts take over your mind they take over your life. If you want to be happy you have to start focusing on the positive things. Go outside, do fun activities, travel do things you enjoy and let go of the negative.

  1. DO Know your worth

If you encounter with racial slurs or just a mean spirited people. Let their words go. You can do this by canceling the thought with a memory of something nice a person said to you instead

  1. DO Find your Tribe

Find people who you can be 100% yourself with, who make you feel like you belong and stick to them. The last thing you want to lose abroad is yourself!

  1. DO maintain or rekindle relationships with family and friends back home

Family and old friends may not understand what you are going through but they are always there to listen

  1. Do not give up on German people

German culture takes so much time to penetrate but once you get through it is worth it!

Invest in some good language courses and learning material. A great book to start you understanding German culture is Germany: Unraveling an Enigma: Unravelling an Enigma by Greg Nees.

  1. DO Know that it is ok to not be ok

If things become too overwhelming find help and admit that, you are not coping. It is totally normal and ok! Do not suffer in alone. Get counseling and or medical attention if you need to. You are not weak, you are human.

You must not feel embarrassed if your experience with studying abroad is not what it looks like in the movies or YouTube. Culture shock and depression associated with it is a lot more common than you think. That being said things will get better! You just have to work at it and you will eventually get that life you dreamed of when you embarked on this journey. Trust me!

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