Tips For Your First Week Studying Abroad
So you’ve made it through the hardest bit: all the applications, the piles of paperwork, the tiresome traveling, and now you’ve finally arrived in your new home! But where to start? Here’s how to get most out of your first week studying abroad and get yourself ready for a fantastic new semester!
Go to orientation
If your orientation talks aren’t mandatory it can be tempting to give them a miss in favour of staying in bed or catching up with new friends, but you could be missing out! Welcome talks can include practical information such as where to get medical care but also fun stuff like all the clubs and societies you can get involved in during your stay. Sometimes they are the only chance certain staff members get to talk to such a large body of students, so often this is the best time for them to tell you about their projects. During my welcome week we were told about a scheme that helped put exchange students in contact with local schools to share cultures and customs with the students. I got to meet some really awesome kids and see how a typical Swedish school runs, and I would have never heard about the project if I had not gone to the welcome talks! We were also all made to dance to Swedish House Mafia during one talk, but that’s another story… Class introductions are also well worth attending. You’ll get to know the structure of the course and its assessments so there’s no nasty surprises later on, and most teachers will run some kind of ice breaker in the first class, giving you a chance to get to know your new classmates and scope out the best potential group members for that presentation in week five!
Go to as many social events as you can
The social events at the beginning of term are a great way to get involved in on campus activities and to meet a ton of new people. The best thing about these start-of-semester socials is that everyone is feeling a little awkward and a little lonely, and it’s totally acceptable to just start up a conversation with a total stranger. I made an amazing friend at the very first social event I went to during my orientation week. She’s back in her home country now but we’re already making plans to visit her in Berlin later this Spring, and all it took was one awkward ‘hello’. It may seem strange at first, but I promise you, there are loads of people internally begging someone else to make the first move. Even something as simple as complimenting someone’s shoes can be all it takes to make a new friend – honestly, this actually happened to me last week.
Figure out your university’s online platform
There’s nothing worse than showing up for a class and being the only one that is completely unprepared because you didn’t see the online message to bring this, or read that. Spend a few minutes at the start of the week exploring the online platform so you know where to find weekly readings, or how to submit assignments. It’s also a good idea to familiarise yourself with the university’s online resources and the library – if you have to apply for a library account do it ASAP, and scope out the cosiest study corner for when the real work begins!
If there’s a chance to take a campus tour during your orientation week, do! It’s a fun way to get a quick guide to what’s around and also to ask your student guide any questions, like where’s the best lunch spot, or which student union bar is the cheapest! Even if you take a tour, there’s no better replacement for just wandering around and discovering what’s about. I spent a year and a half at my home university before discovering there was a mini-Starbucks next to the gym which, if anything, just goes to show how often I go to the gym…
Get a handle on public transport
Figuring out the public transport is super useful regardless of whether you live on campus or not. Not only does it help you explore your new home, but if you figure it out sooner rather than later then you’re bound to save a whole lot of money. If you have to travel to campus each day, does it work out cheaper to buy a monthly pass rather than single tickets? Don’t be afraid to ask a local classmate; not only will they have the insider knowledge but it’s an easy and non-awkward way to get talking to someone new. If you’re studying in Europe however, chances are everyone will own a bicycle so keep your eyes peeled for campus bike sales too!
Once you’re done exploring campus, branch out a little!
Explore your new home! Take a bus to the centre and wander around the shops. Look up local museums and learn about your new city or town. Find a new favourite coffee bar, and maybe even ask the barista for some local highlights. The world (or at least this little corner of it) is your oyster!
Make a shopping list in your host country’s language
The first time I went shopping in Sweden I had no idea what half the stuff I was picking up was. Is that caviar? In a tube? But… why? A really easy way to start grasping more of a new language, and to prevent eating something that is definitely not what you thought it was, is to make your usual shopping list but run it through a translation app and find out what all your favourite foods are called in your new home’s language. This makes shopping a breeze, and it’s great practice!
Most importantly, enjoy it!
You’ll never get another chance to experience your first week studying abroad. It can be overwhelming at times, but that’s ok, and totally understandable. Get exploring and start the semester on a high!