You have claimed your suitcase at baggage claim. You are greeted by your host family and pack your bags in the car. The drive home will be full of unfamiliar sights, sounds and a lot of emotions. Your exchange program has officially started.
For most exchange students, the first few days will be extremely exciting. You will be moving in to your new room, meeting new family members and acclimating to a new environment. At some point, however, students may begin finding it difficult to adjust to all of the new aspects in their lives.
After the initial excitement wears off, most students begin to feel some culture shock. You will experience many differences between your new home and your home country. Adjusting to a new language, new surroundings and new people is not an easy process. This is completely normal.
The important thing is to not allow your culture shock to prevent you from enjoying your time abroad.
How to Adjust:
There are many ways you can make the adjustment to your new environment a little smoother, even before you arrive.
Research: Before leaving for your program, research more about the town you will be living in. Research more about the school you will be attending. See what activities are available and what you would be interested in getting involved in. This will give you some ideas before you become overwhelmed with all of the changes that comes with living abroad.
Explore Your New Home: Once you arrive at your new home, take the time to tour the entire house. Learn where the main rooms are. Also make sure to ask your host family how to use the household appliances. The faster you become familiar with your new home, the easier it will be to become comfortable.
Explore the Town: The next step is to take a tour of the town. Ask your host family about the local attractions in the area. Find out where the parks are, where the beaches are or where the athletic fields are. Visit your new school before your first day to see what it looks like. Again, this will all help you adjust more quickly to your new environment.
Get Involved: Make sure to get involved in activities and clubs as soon as possible. Not only will this help you discover new interests, but you will also make new friends with the other people who participate in these activities.
Schedule Natural Family Time: It is natural to be homesick during an exchange program. Being thousands of miles away from your family and friends is not easy. It is also important, however, not to isolate yourself from your host family and new friends during this time. That is why it is a good idea to schedule specific times to reach out to your family and friends back home. For example, set up a Skype call every Tuesday and Thursday night. This will allow you to stay in touch with your family, without sacrificing important time during the program.
Each student experience is different. Some students will adjust quickly, and some students will take longer than others to feel comfortable. The important thing is to remember to always make an effort to embrace the new culture and new people in your life.