by McKenna Clippert
It seems like it was yesterday when I first heard about Greenheart Travel and began researching countries and deciding where I wanted to go for my high school exchange in Austria. Time has flown by since then and I’ve officially been living in Salzburg, Austria for a week. It’s been kind of a whirlwind since I boarded my first flight back in the States, and I have to admit that things have been hard for me. That being said, even though I’ve only been here for a short time, I’ve come up with a few tips on surviving your first week abroad.
Tip #1: Bring snacks
For a while, you’ll probably be too shy to go raid your host family’s kitchen, and it might take a while for you to get used to the food and the eating habits in your country. There’s a good chance that you’ll be hungry sometimes, so just to be safe, bring something like granola bars or your favorite candy. Not only will you feel better about things after you’ve eaten, but food from home can be just the fix you need when you get homesick.
Tip #2: Stock up on your favorite products
For example, makeup in Europe can be expensive, and you probably won’t be able to find your favorite brand of mascara that you’ve been using since you were twelve. You could always have your parents ship you things if you need them, but there’s a good chance that the package will take a while to arrive in your country. Take it from me; I’m only a week in and I’m almost out of my favorite eyebrow powder. It’s a true tragedy.
Tip #3: Bring comfortable clothes
I made the mistake of sacrificing my beloved sweatpants and hoodies when I ran out of room in my suitcase and I already regret it. I completely underestimated the importance of warm, fuzzy, familiar, comfy clothes.
(Extra packing tip: Space bags are your friends. Use and abuse them to your hearts content.)
Tip #4: Ask questions
If you don’t understand something, always ask again. You might feel stupid, and it might be embarrassing at first to ask so many questions, but it can be even worse to not be sure of something. For example, on my first day of school, I took the bus and missed my stop and got hopelessly lost in Salzburg. After wandering around for 30 minutes, I had to ask a bus driver to call my host mom on his phone (I didn’t have a working cell phone at the time) and I had to wait in a parking lot for her to come pick me up. That experience was more embarrassing than all of my questions combined.
Remember, not knowing something doesn’t make you stupid and it’s okay to not understand right away.
Tip #5: Always remember that your host family wants you to be there
You might feel like you’re annoying them at first, and it can be easy to convince yourself that you’re not actually wanted there. You are. When you start feeling like that, think back to how extensive your application process was. Think about all the paperwork, and all the effort you had to go through to get here, and then remember that they went through all of that, too. They wouldn’t have gone through so much effort to get you if they didn’t want you.
Tip #6: Understand that school will be boring at first
This is especially for those of us that came to our country without knowing the language: school will be boring, even a little depressing. A lot of your time in school will be spent just sitting around and waiting for class to end. If you don’t know the language, you’ll have absolutely no idea what’s going on 90% of the time; even when someone explains it in English, you’re still only getting a brief overview with little to no details. You will be bored and you will be confused. Bring a journal, a book, or a magazine to pass the time. Try and get permission from your teacher to study the country’s language during that class instead, since you can’t participate anyway. Ask your English teacher if you can go to classes with them and help them teach, as you’re a native speaker and you can really help people learn. For a while, it will just be about getting through school; do whatever makes it easier.
Tip #7: Remember you will be okay
You will be sad, and you will be lonely, and there will probably be lots of tears for the first few days. You’ll miss your parents, your friends, your pets, and your home. It is totally normal to be sad; you are thousands of miles from everything you know and love. Keep reminding yourself that you will be okay and that it won’t be like this the whole time. Things will get easier and you will get stronger, and you will be okay.
I’ve found that the best way to cope with the sadness and homesickness is to relish in your little victories. For example, go on a walk and find 5 cool things to take pictures of in the area. Not only did you venture out by yourself and make it back alive, but you found something beautiful, and beautiful things always make a person feel better.
You’ll have moments where you think that you absolutely can’t do this; never forget how brave you are for coming in the first place. By the time this experience is over, you’ll be so much better and so much stronger than you were before. Bad times won’t last forever, and making it through the bad times will make the good times that much more enjoyable. You’ll be having the time of your life before you know it.