I had to give myself a week before writing about adjusting to life abroad. There were just too many snap judgments that I may later regret having written about at the time I was making them. Now looking back on my initial reactions, I can speak of them from a much more objective viewpoint and evaluate what I was feeling and why I was feeling it at the time. The most important thing I have learned in my first week of living in a foreign country is this: in order for change to be positive, it must be openly embraced.
When I first arrived, I must admit I was feeling overwhelmed. I have experienced jetlag before, but nothing like this. I was exhausted and overwhelmed by my surroundings. I was already being thrown onto public transportation, expected to map my way around the city via buses and the tube. I had the task ahead of me of grocery shopping and cooking for the first time, or I would risk spending large amounts of money on restaurant meals. I had three suitcases and a bag to unpack, a room to organize, and cleaning products and essentials to purchase. I also had classes to worry about and books and supplies to acquire for them. And on top of that, I was living in an apartment with four other people I did not know; I had not been placed with the girls I had requested to live with. At the time, all of these issues were the source of many complaints and much despair. I am hardly one to voluntarily admit to weakness, but I cried the first night. It was a feeling of homesickness coming from the realization that much here would not be the same as what I was used to at home. At the time, that was too much to handle.
Now that a week has gone by, I am much more relaxed and am more than confident in my choosing to do this. Not only can I do this, I am beginning to love it, just as I had imagined I would. I am falling into a routine. I was given an important piece of advice at my study abroad orientation at OU: they told me if ever I should feel homesick, just find a familiar activity that I enjoy at home to do.
I am glad I gave myself time before documenting my initial reactions. I guess I had just expected everything to fall into place as soon as I arrived, and if I have learned anything from moving into college, it is that is never the case. It takes several days to adjust and many attempts at organization and finding out how to manage your schedule in any new experience you enter. I can honestly say I am happy and content now that I have settled in. I know exactly what buses to take and where to catch them. Managing money is easier now that I have shopped around and discovered which stores offer the best bargains. I am also learning that getting lost is the best way to discover how to get around the neighborhood I live in! And the room mate issue? Not even a worry.
At first, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and as if you lack control over your situation, after all, there is a lot of truth to that. The best thing you can during that initial stage of discomfort is to remember that you are still you, and that just because your surroundings change, doesn’t mean you can’t still be yourself. You just have to find some familiarity in your new country. You may gain new knowledge, see new sights, and try new things, but these are all aspects of studying abroad that will add to your greater perspective on life. What helped me personally to get through my first week here was a piece of advice from my mom, who also studied abroad in London when she was my age. She encouraged me to try to get the most out of my time here because it will go fast – things are never perfect and never the way we picture them, but that’s what makes it such a unique and exciting time in life. If I could take it back, I wouldn’t have wasted my first week dwelling on the differences and would have rather embraced them as all part of the experience.