Overcoming Common Study Abroad Obstacles
Studying abroad is a great opportunity for self-growth, but with that comes many obstacles to overcome. I’m a CEA CAPA student studying abroad in Paris at La Sorbonne University, and I’m sharing some tips to conquer feelings that can arise while entering this crazy but fun experience! We are only human and it’s natural to have uncertainty in our life, but that’s what makes the journey exciting.
Navigating Culture Shock
First, culture shock is very common, especially when talking to friends I made here while studying abroad in Paris. After you order your first Pain Au Chocolate and make it through your jetlagged, adrenaline-powered day, it’s plausible to feel a plethora of emotions. If you don’t know the language of the country you’re studying abroad in, that can be a barrier to overcome. It helps, especially in France, to memorize phrases when you order food and always be polite when entering a shop by saying “bonjour.” This can go a long way, and if you don’t understand, most people do speak English. Also, if they immediately talk to you in English, don’t take it personally, they’re probably just trying to make the transaction easier.
Next, you might feel homesick and the only way to cure this is to give your family or friends back home a call or update them with photos from abroad. If you have other student friends going through the same thing it can be very helpful to talk to them about how you feel because they most likely feel the same! I think that studying abroad is the perfect place to make friends because everyone is in the same boat and looking to make friends!
How to make friends abroad? Yes, I said it was easy but I know not everyone is a social butterfly. I find that we tend to overthink things, and this can block us from building true connections. The simplest way to connect with someone is just to ask them for their name and introduce yourself. This’ll almost always lead to a conversation. If you feel like you had an authentic connection with this person, ask them for their number so you can plan an activity together. Being in a new country is a very unique experience that’ll surely create a strong bond. I’ve only known my roommate in Paris for three weeks, and I feel like I’ve known her for years.
Managing Mental Health
Mental health and wellbeing aren’t talked about enough especially when it comes to studying abroad. Most people suspect that traveling and being in a new country will make their life perfect, but unfortunately, nothing in life is ever 100% flawless. Feelings of being overwhelmed, missing home, culture shock, and loneliness are natural. What helps me is to take time for myself. In Paris, there are always people around and things to do, therefore, it can become overstimulating. The fear of missing out can get to you. Consequentially, you can end up feeling run down. Taking a break from the city and sitting in a park or cafe to journal or read is my favorite thing to do when I know I need "me time." I hate spending time in my room, especially in Paris, but sometimes lying in bed and watching movies is what I need physically and mentally! You must give yourself time to rest and refuel to enjoy the thrilling times of being abroad.
Getting sick isn’t something we’d like to think about occurring when abroad, but it’s plausible. I tend to catch colds easily while traveling and have been in situations where I can’t find the medicine I need in the country I’m in. I highly recommend carrying with you all the cold medicine that you can just in case you get sick. Your future self will thank you! To avoid being sick in the first place, pack vitamins and be cautious about where you’re putting your hands. Also, if you’re going out every night, surrounded by crowds of people, chances are you’ll catch something, so just keep that in mind. Keeping a balanced diet is helpful as well, although it can be difficult when you’re surrounded by bakeries.
Next, my tips on saving money. The biggest area I spend my money on is food. The easiest way to save money is to buy groceries from the supermarket and make some meals at home. In Paris, they have markets going on almost daily where you can buy fresh veggies and fruit at low prices. This is a very authentic Parisian experience and a great way to practice French. Also, the area that you’re in greatly impacts the prices. It’s good to have a general idea of where the touristy and high-end areas are located, so you know to avoid them when eating out. Just because something is more expensive doesn’t always mean the quality is higher. Public transportation isn’t only the fastest way to navigate Paris, but also the cheapest, so take advantage of it. Lastly, if you want to upgrade your wardrobe, you must check out thrift store options. Paris has a plethora of Kilos stores, (you pay based on Kilos) and I’ve found some cool pieces for a bargain.
All and all, I’ve found my experience in Paris unforgettable and would recommend anyone to study abroad with CEA CAPA.
Luca Whitaker is a CEA CAPA student studying abroad in Paris, France during Summer '23.
Read more about our CEA CAPA Content Creators.