First Days of Study Abroad: Calming Nerves and Getting Acclimated

Skye Thomson Wellington, New Zealand


March 14, 2023

Before I headed out to study abroad I was a mess of nerves, not only worried about getting there but about what to do once I arrived. It seemed to me that I was building my entire life from scratch, at a new school, with new friends (hopefully), and living in a new country. Along with this, I had to cook for myself for the first time! Looking at it all from the outside-in it seemed overwhelming, how would I be able to do it all? Well, the answer was: with lots of help. My saving grace was my Arcadia group. I ended up only having one day of orientation to get to know them, as a cyclone in Wellington caused my original flight (and many others) to be canceled. Still, we were all in the same boat on the same unfamiliar sea, and because of this, we got to learn together.

One of the first challenges to tackle, upon arriving at an empty house, was grocery shopping. As mundane as it may seem, suddenly being tasked with feeding yourself three times a day seven days a week seemed…. A lot. What essentials do you buy? How long will each product last? And how do you not freak out at the inevitable dollar amount that pops up at checkout? These were the questions in my head and luckily everyone else's as we walked through the aisles of the grocery store. We must have been laughable as we rushed around like mad men trying to find things we might need. Someone would comment “Oh I should get bread” and the rest would chorus “Oh yeah bread!” Inevitably we would have to venture back into town the following day because we forgot to buy laundry detergent…  or anything to put on the bread, but the initial shock was over. The aisles of the grocery store seemed much more manageable when there was a group of us to brave them.

Now that we had food we were free to explore our new city, more than a little daunting. As the shuttle from the airport dropped me off I remember looking up at the buildings and feeling myself shrink. I had never lived in a city before, let alone one this size, how would I even begin to navigate it? Again, with the help of new friends. With the use of Apple and Google maps, we twisted our way around the city, taking wrong turns and backtracking but ultimately finding our way. In a situation where panic could have grown the city around us, our camaraderie seemed to shrink, until the entirety of the city seemed more than manageable. We walked to the grocery store and the clothing stores and the farmers market and slowly the map of the city began to draw itself in our heads until we didn’t need the use of our phones any longer and we even felt comfortable venturing out on our own.

Once the city had been mapped in our minds by foot we graduated onto public transportation. Together we learned how to buy a bus card, which bus stop to walk to, and which bus to get on. As with everything else we made lots of mistakes until we got it right. Our first-ever bus adventure resulted in getting dropped off barely a block from where we started. Whoops. But eventually, we found buses to take us where we wanted to go, and with more practice, I’m sure we will become experts.

Although initially, everything may seem entirely overwhelming it helps to remember that you are with a group of people, whether with a program or housemates or even classmates, who are in the same position as you. I think this is what makes studying abroad such an incredible opportunity, yes you are traveling and cooking and living by yourself, but you have a whole network of students doing it with you. As someone who wants to travel more in the future, being in a situation where I could travel internationally alone but still have a support system abroad felt like the perfect starting opportunity. I got to learn about my new country through Arcadia's pre-orientation materials before I even landed in New Zealand, and came into the semester knowing the emergency numbers to call and even the local terms. All of this made me feel more prepared coming in. Of course once I arrived my program directors were there to fill in the information gaps and answer my questions, not to mention to help get me from the airport to my accommodation. More than this I had support from all the other students studying abroad.