Things to Expect as an ESL Student Abroad

 In Study Abroad 101

How do you get ready for that un-matchable experience?  Study abroad is the time when you not only advance your career prospects, but you grow as a person.  As a student abroad, you meet academic as well as life challenges, you mature and you return home a different person.  Here are some of the things to expect…but, there will be literally hundreds of things you’ll experience as an ESL student abroad that will be new and surprising, but, remember, the challenges you meet will be better dealt with if you understand what they are.

How to get Ready to be an ESL Student Abroad

  1. student abroadCulture Shock

Easily the first experience you’ll have is culture shock.  Things are going to be very different from your own culture, and no, American movies, and TV shows don’t prepare you for what to expect.  America is huge.  Cities and towns are completely different from one another.  For example, I grew up in Wisconsin in a small town, and moved to New York City (you’ve probably heard of it)…in my hometown you say hello to everyone you encounter.  When I arrived in New York, and started smiling and greeting all and sundry, I was quickly picked out as the lame gazelle.  By the time my friend had come to fetch me I had “borrowed” out all my money, and was talking to a REALLY nice man about places I could stay for free.  I am American, and I had a lot to learn about living in NYC.

What you can do to prepare for your American experience is to learn as much as you can about the specific city or town you’ll be living in.  Do online research.  Read local newspapers and blogs especially blogs by other ESL students studying in that city.  Check in advance for local ethnic clubs and societies.  Join the international student groups available to you.  You’ll be able to learn from the experiences of other ESL students from your own culture, and can create a “home away from home” for those times when you need to hear your own language, and want to know you aren’t alone.

Which brings me to the second most common experience of ESL students studying abroad.

  1. Homesickness

You may feel as though you are ready to be away from home.  Maybe you’re dying to try out your wings, and gain some independence, but sooner or later homesickness will creep in.  Being independent sounds great until you realize it also means you’re away from family and friends.  Often you don’t realize how much you rely on their help and support until you’re without it.  All the strategies to cope with culture shock will be helpful, and you can take advantage of technology.  Use Skype, Periscope, Snapchat, or just call to hear and see friends back home.

  1. Bias

Though America is a melting pot of ethnicities, races, religions, and cultures, there will be some people who aren’t as evolved.  Feel sorry for them.  They’re obviously not well traveled or very smart.

“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou   

Keep your head up and remember not everyone thinks the way that sad, small-minded person does.

You’ll make mistakes; let’s get that out of the way right now.  Don’t expect to get everything right, or be completely prepared.  As an ESL student studying abroad in the US you’re diving from the high board into unknown waters.  Be as ready as you can be, but take a deep breath, and jump in.


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