Traveling abroad can be challenging, especially when it’s a country and culture you have never experienced. During my summer abroad, I truly hit the ground running: My flight to Copenhagen, Denmark landed 16 hours before my first class.
For someone like me who enjoys a fast-paced environment, this was a welcome challenge, but that isn’t the case for all students. In this blog post, I’ll discuss my first 24 hours in a new country and share a few tips for students to minimize the stress of their first few days abroad.
To start off, learning the basic differences between your destination and the U.S. can be helpful. You can ask yourself, what are common greetings? How does local transportation work? What are the support systems provided by your affiliate or host university? For example, knowing that the hierarchy of Copenhagen’s right-of-way is pedestrians, bikes, and then cars would have prevented many near-misses and saved me several angry cyclists during my first few days.
Like many major cities abroad, Copenhagen utilizes a strong network of public transportation that can be a great resource for students. It took me a few days and many missed trains to get used to the transportation system, so a small amount of prep could have saved me lots of time and energy. Researching transportation and understanding things like payment methods and schedules, and even mapping out routes can make your transition abroad as smooth as possible.
Affiliate programs and the Education Abroad office at The University of Texas at Austin work with students to help them prepare and enjoy their experience abroad. Using these resources can be a huge help. Attending pre-departure orientations and meeting with a study abroad advisor can contribute to your preparation before you leave.
However, it’s hard to predict circumstances that might arise once you arrive, so knowing the resources available can minimize the risk of running into unforeseen problems. For example, if I’d known that the Danish Institute for Study Abroad (DIS) offers instructions to purchase and utilize the city metro pass, it would have prevented me from nearly getting a metro fine on my first commute to class.
Many students abroad will face language barriers during their experience. Luckily for me, English is common in Denmark, so I was able to navigate through my day without many issues. However, this may not be the case for all students, and it’s something to consider when planning your trip.
Understanding common terms or phrases can come in handy if you find yourself in a new country. It can also be helpful to download apps that translate conversations and writings. For me, Google Lens, an image-recognition technology, was a lifesaver when I was trying to understand street signs and maps in Denmark.
As with many affiliates, DIS provided housing during my time abroad. When I arrived at my apartment, I was instantly greeted by my roommate, who gave me a tour and explained the layout. Being an active social member of your housing community can be one of the quickest and easiest ways to meet new people abroad.
I highly recommend attending community events held in the common areas of your new apartment. Whether you utilize an affiliate or host university to find housing, be mindful to select an environment where you feel comfortable. Factors can range from the number of roommates you prefer to the distance to your classes and the city center.
After unpacking and getting settled in, it was time to head to my first class. It’s important to understand that there will be differences in teaching and learning methods across the world. The classes I took abroad were much less traditional than classes at UT Austin and took a much more hands-on approach.
After a few days, I became familiar with my route to class and used the metro to explore the city. Stepping out of your comfort zone and learning as you go is part of every experience abroad; that being said, preparing for your trip and understanding some simple aspects of your new home can help make your transition as smooth as possible.
Max Ruthart is an Education Abroad Peer Mentor providing support to students interested in studying abroad. Learn about this position and its services on the Peer Mentor Programs webpage.