1) Do your research before you go
Make sure you learn about important cultural differences of the destination you are traveling to before you arrive. For example, if you are going to Japan, make sure you know that it is common courtesy to take your shoes off inside the home. If you are going to a Latin country, be sure you know that kissing on the cheek is a common way greeting each other. If you know what to expect before you get there, acclimating to the other culture will be a lot easier.
2) Brush up on the local language
Knowing the local language can make your time abroad more tolerable. If you are in constant need of a translator, things can get frustrating. Luckily, there are apps like Google Translate which can be helpful when communicating in a foreign language, just keep in mind that these direct translations are not always correct. Learning the local language shows that you are really interested in the local culture and oftentimes teaches you a lot about the people. Keep in mind that body language and hand gestures are also important forms of communication. Make sure you use the appropriate gestures to avoid offending someone!
3) Keep a journal or a blog
Writing down your initial impressions, frustrations and fears about your experience abroad is a great way to learn about yourself and to grow as a person. Pack a small notebook and start out writing about your journey on the way to your destination. Long flights offer plenty of time to jot down how your expectations about the adventure you are embarking on. Then, once you arrive and get settled in, make some time each week to sit down and write down what you did that day, what foods you have tried and what you like about your new home. These observations may help you dive deeper into your emotions and spark creativity. Once you return from your trip, you can flip back through your journal to bring back the emotions you felt during your time abroad.
Some people who aren’t afraid to share their experiences with others choose to create a personal blog. Blogging essentially serves the same purpose as journaling, but on a less private platform. Really outgoing people even create YouTube channels where they make video blogs called “vlogs.”
4) Make friends with a local
Making a local connection with someone that is from the place you are temporarily living is crucial. These “informants” can answer questions about why they do things a certain way in their culture. They can explain what certain expressions mean and why they eat certain foods. Living with a host family is an ideal way for getting to know the local culture. Experiencing how another family does their daily chores, eats their meals and communicates with each other can teach you more than you think. Experiencing life in a different culture can make you see your own culture differently when you return home.
5) Join an expat community or international group
Meeting other people that come from your home country can make adjusting to a new culture much easier. It is always nice to be able to talk about things you miss back home with someone who understands. There are many online groups you can join to find out about international events or meetings in your area. Expats are great resources. Listen to their stories and tips for successfully integrating into the local culture.
6) Get outside
If you are feeling homesick and lonely, don’t stay inside locked in your room! The best way to get over feeling down is to be proactive. Go take a walk around your neighborhood. Notice the different styles of architecture of the houses and even the different kinds of cars you see. Is there a park nearby? Walk there and sit on a bench and write in your journal. Is there a nature reserve close by? Take a hike and let the open air calm your nerves.
7) Build a routine
The best way to feel like you actually live somewhere is to build a routine. Why travel across the world to lounge on the sofa watching tv? Wake up at the same time every day and start your day with a plan. Sign up for that language class. Go to a café to write in your journal or blog. Meet your neighbors. Make a lunch date with a new friend. Join a gym or a sports team. Take a cooking class. Be a tourist and explore the area. Go to a museum. Hit the beach. Join a Language Exchange group. Volunteer at a local school or organization. Teach English. The more proactive you are in keeping yourself busy, the less time you have to feel homesick.
8) Do something that reminds you of home
Missing the comforts of home? Make yourself feel at home by doing something you love. Listen to your favorite music. Watch your favorite movie. Cook something that reminds you of home. Love Mac ‘n Cheese? When it’s ready, close your eyes and remember eating this in your family’s kitchen when you were a kid. Or bake chocolate cookies with your host family. Our senses can help us remember fond memories. Relive those memories and be thankful that you are now making new memories that you can share with your family and friends when you get home.
9) Video chat with your family and friends back home
With today’s technology, it is easy to feel close to your loved ones on the other side of the world. There are numerous apps and electronic forms of communication that are free and easy to use. Download Skype, Whatsapp, Viber, Hangouts, Messenger or Facetime to text, talk or video chat for free. Check in with your friends and family back home every week or so, but do try to limit the amount of time you spend online chatting with them during your time abroad. Make sure you live for today and really get out there and make the most of your trip.
10) Do something that takes courage every day
Travel in itself demands courage. It gets you out of your comfort zone and throws you into another way of life. Culture shock is real. You may not believe that until you experience it. But just remember that you wanted to see the world from a different perspective. In order to do that, make yourself do something courageous every day you are abroad. You don’t have to brave bungee jumping or a water jetpack, these can be small things that make your everyday life more exciting. Ask someone what time it is in the local language. Jump on the metro without having a real destination in mind. Let yourself get lost. Talk to a barista in a café. Try a new food. Start running. Rent a bicycle. Ask for directions. Help someone that asks you for directions. The more you put yourself out there, the more experiences you will gain. When you return home and remember all of these experiences, both positive and negative, you will see yourself in a different light. You did it! You lived abroad!