The idea of studying abroad can seem very intimidating. Moving to a new country reminds me of the first day of kindergarten, where you are entering a new environment and you have no idea how you will react to it or how it will react to you. The food, the people and the culture are all unfamiliar. You ask yourself a load of silly questions. What if I dress differently and everyone notices? What if I can’t make any friends and spend the next six months alone in my apartment? What happens if this country doesn’t sell deodorant and I’m stuck rationing the stick that I brought in my airplane carry-on? You’ll probably imagine a whole bunch of irrational, worst-case scenarios but realistically, you are overreacting. If you are thinking of enrolling in an exchange program abroad, I highly recommend it. After spending a semester at the Metropolitan University of Prague (MUP) in the Czech Republic, I’m here to offer a few tips on how to adjust in your new surroundings.
Being an exchange student is a great way to meet new and perhaps life-long friends. More than ever as an exchange student you have to push yourself outside your comfort zone. You know that mixer that you are dreading because you don’t know anyone and hate awkward small talk? Go to it. I travelled alone to Prague so I forced myself to go to every social event for the first month. At first, it was uncomfortable but before I knew it I was forging life-long friendships with some amazing people.
Modifying your academic habits can be difficult, especially if you’ve been attending the same university for years. Every university has different grading scales, expectations and teaching methods. I approached all my professors after my first class at MUP, explained that I was an exchange student and they all offered assistance when I needed. Exams and papers were different than what I am used to but all my professors were quite helpful. I would suggest that you make connections at the start of the semester, that way you don’t fall behind.
Language and Culture
Learn a few key words and phrases in the native language of your exchange country. For example, “Hello, goodbye, thank-you, please and I’m sorry I don’t speak Czech” can be a good starting point. Try taking a language class before you leave or do like I did and study the language at your host university. Culture can be a tad trickier to adjust to. The Internet is full of etiquette tips so make sure to research in advance. Look into eating etiquette, tipping customs, dressing habits, public transport systems, taxis and anything you believe could be useful to adjust.
Eat Outside Your Comfort Zone
Part of going to a new country is to experience life differently than your usual day-to-day. Don’t be afraid to try new foods. Try the pork schnitzel, give the local brew a go or maybe have a Czech “svíčková”! While it is ok to go to McD’s for the occasional bit of comfort food, don’t rely on what you are used to. It won’t be nearly as exciting if you do!
Now that you are equipped with a few pointers, pack your books and your camera and go study abroad!
Janelle Deniset studies in the Political Science Honours program at the University of Winnipeg. She did an academic exchange for one semester in Prague where she studied International Relations and the Czech language.