Making an effort to learn even the basics of the local language really pays off. It makes you more comfortable, and it increases a thousand times over your chances of beginning to know and understand the place you’re living in. That’s Step 1 toward finding your way and fitting in.
Expect to be homesick sometimes. Everyone longs for familiarity and comfort now and then. Turn to your fellow students – they will understand – and track down some McDonald’s or peanut butter if you must. But recognize that it’s up to you to push yourself to move past it. Don’t waste this amazing opportunity wishing you were somewhere else because before you know it, you will be.
If you are interested in traveling and living abroad, you must have an adventurous spirit in there somewhere. When you find yourself frustrated by local customs that aren’t quite to your preference, call on your sense of adventure, and remember that the easiest thing to change is your mind-set.
Behave yourself. If you’re thinking that an ocean between you and home means that you should test just how drunk and stupid freedom will allow, then think again. You immediately become a target of prey (not to mention an embarrassment to your family, your college and your country). Integrating safely into a foreign culture means having your wits about you.
Assuming you’re not being drunk and stupid, trust people to accept you, and don’t worry about looking foolish or awkward. Speak your pathetic French or Italian loud and clear. Remember that even a mispronounced kind word goes a long way and that a smile and a thoughtful gesture can break down cultural barriers instantly.
Keep those five facts in mind while you work on the practical details of finding your way and fitting in. For that, start with the Internet. Google your destination and learn all you can about it. Look for useful sites about living abroad, language acquisition, travel and customs. The Links page on this site lists many good sites to get you started. Remember also to talk with program alumni, and once at your destination, explore all you can, and learn all you can. You’ll be mistaken for a native in no time.