Trust us when we say that culture shock while studying abroad is real. We’ve all been there: You´re walking along a picturesque street one quiet afternoon when the surreal realization hits you like a flash of vertigo – Whoa, I am actually living in another country. Or maybe you’re standing in line at the grocery store and can’t get over how close the guy behind you is standing… a little personal space, please? And of course we can’t forget the inevitable scenario of finding yourself in conversation with a girl who is literally speaking at the speed of light, and you realize with horror that you have no idea what she just said …aaand cue the nervous laughter.
As humans, we all have the ability to adjust to just about any new situation or environment; we’re wired to assimilate novelty quickly. It’s for this reason that studying and living abroad is in fact much less difficult than people may think. But that’s also why those rare flashes of existential clarity — those surreal holy crap! moments — can evoke a whole range of emotions from awe, pride and joy all the way to the other end of the spectrum: fear, anxiety and loneliness.
For our students learning Spanish abroad, we understand that occasional bouts of homesickness or culture shock are a normal and healthy part of the study abroad experience. So, whether you find yourself in Spain or Latin America, we’re bringing you some tips to help you adapt to your Spanish immersion destination quickly and effortlessly.
1. Get involved:
You’ve finally made it to that destination of your dreams. You’ve spent the money, exerted the energy, invested the time. So now that you’re here, this is definitely not the moment to stay in bed or make excuses. Get involved in everything: sign up for all the activities your Enforex school offers, or join Facebook expat groups and get out to their events. Maybe that guy from class invited you to take a day trip with him and his host family – awesome! The more you dive into your study abroad head-on, the more confidence you’ll build (both in yourself as well as your new Spanish language skills!), the richer your experiences will be, and the less chance of feeling any regret, or worse – BOREDOM (it’s one of the leading causes of loneliness…you know, according to science).
2. Find people with similar interests:
It’s easy to feel like an out-of-place foreigner when you have nothing in your environment to relate to. That’s why it’s absolutely key to seek out people with similar personalities and interests. Because during those times when you’re feeling homesick, there’s no better cure than spending time with people who just get you. We all need a home away from home, right? Now, we’re not advising that you just stick to your own countrymen (if that’s all you wanted, you could’ve stayed home for that!). The fun is in finding people you can relate to who aren’t from your culture or background. A great way to do this is to sign up for an intercambio: you’ll get together with a local and chat half the time in Spanish and the other half in English. Not only is a great way to improve your Spanish (want to learn all the local slang? This is the way to go!), you might also make a new friend too. Meetup.com is another great way to meet both local and international people in your area. The website organizes tons of events based on interest groups; so whether you’re a lover of hiking, food and wine, photography, or cats cats cats, you’re bound to have a great time, make friends and take your Spanish conversation skills to the next level.
3. Practice mindfulness and self-reflection daily:
Even if you’re having an amazing time in your Spanish immersion adventure, there will inevitably be low moments, some examples being:
– you’re sad you missed a family reunion or friend’s birthday party back at home
– you’re exasperated that every simple task seems to take an eternity to complete because of your new and unfamiliar environment
– you yearn for the good old days when talking was effortless
– you’re frustrated that you can’t fully express yourself and your personality (I bet no one ever told you how hard it would be to tell a joke in another language, huh?)
In these low moments, it’s essential that you take a breath, take a step away from the emotions and remind yourself why you came here in the first place. You didn’t come halfway across the world to feel like you’re back in Kansas. You came for the challenge, the excitement, the cultural and linguistic immersion, the personal growth. No one said it would be easy… so why did you come? Because it’s been your lifelong dream to live abroad? Because this has always been the destination of your dreams? Or maybe because you’ve always wanted to take some personal time, unplug from the “real world”, and work on yourself (and your Spanish)? These are the questions you should be reflecting on daily; this exercise in mindfulness will help you stay in the present and keep you feeling excited, appreciative and in absolute awe of this amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience.
4. Push yourself outside your comfort zone:
With all that said, it’s impossible for you to appreciate this beautiful, new and foreign situation you’re in if you don’t also push yourself outside your comfort zone! We’ll let you in on an exciting little secret: being abroad means you can be whoever you want to be, so don’t let that old baggage drag you down. You’re an introvert, you say? Well, then get out there! Accept that invitation to copas after class, stay out late, make new friends at the bar. You don’t like to try new foods? Be daring and try those delicious callos (beef tripe) or order that tapa of caracoles (snails cooked in broth). Pushing yourself beyond what you thought you were capable of makes you better, stronger – and makes your immersion experience that much more incredible.
5. Stay connected and share your experiences:
As much as you should embrace your present, it’s also important to touch base with your family and friends back home occasionally. Organize weekly Skype dates so you can stay connected to what’s happening at home and share your own experiences. Post pictures and videos to your social media, or better yet, why not start a blog? The more you share with your loved ones at home, the more you’ll keep the feelings of loneliness and isolation at bay. And the isolation isn´t just due to the physical distance: in fact, it’s quite normal to feel lonely when you get home as well! Why, you ask? Well, when we have such a powerful, life-changing experience like study abroad, if we don’t share it, we can feel alone with all these amazing memories and experiences that our family and friends can’t relate to. So stay connected, be open and share in all the good and the bad, you’ll be happier for it!
There you have it, everything you need to know about how to tackle culture shock head-on and stave off those study-abroad-blues. After all, your Spanish immersion experience is too short to not fully embrace every challenge and opportunity. Or who knows? Maybe you’ll love it so much, you’ll decide to stay on indefinitely (we hope so!). So get out there and enjoy your adventure!
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