What You Might Experience Your First Week Abroad

Erin Morrisey Scottish Universities' International Summer School (SUISS), Scotland


July 15, 2019
Currently Studying at: Scottish Universities’ International Summer School (SUISS), Scotland
Home School: Butler University

Congratulations! You’ve made it through your first week abroad! You’ve figured out the most logistically challenging parts of your trip, you might have started hanging around the same few coffee shops, and you’re forming new friendships while exploring together; in short, you’ve started making your home in a new country. This is no small feat. Recovering from jet lag, navigating a totally foreign place, and being generally overwhelmed with culture shock make your first week in a new place perhaps the most difficult.

But these first few days also come with constant surprises and realizations. Some of these realizations are fun and exciting, some are a bit scary and overwhelming, and some are just unexpected. In the hopes of making my study abroad experience as useful as it can be for others (and giving myself more opportunities to learn from my own journey), I’ve broken down a few of the things you might expect to learn within your first few days studying abroad.

1. Being a tourist isn’t such a bad thing

I’ve forgone bringing my camera on exciting excursions just because I don’t want to look like an obnoxious tourist. I refused to visit the acclaimed Princes Street because I know it’s a touristy area, and I neglected to take photos on top of the beautiful Arthur’s Seat. But I decided just this weekend that tourism isn’t a terrible thing. It seems most of the native Edinburghers (Edinburgians? Edinbourgeois? There doesn’t seem to be an official title) I’ve met are happy to share their city with travelers. Of course, they expect us to follow their traditional way of doing things (such as walking on the left side of the sidewalk and knowing which coins to use when purchasing something), but they’re proud of their city and excited to share its history with others. With my slightly-southern, very American accent, it’s obvious I’m not native to Scotland, so I’ve found it might be better to embrace the feeling of a tourist and use it as an opportunity to discover everything I can about this wonderful place.

2. Your beliefs will be challenged

Whatever your religious/ cultural/ political/ personal beliefs, you’re going to be entering into discussions with people who disagree with you. So far, my favorite thing about SUISS (the program I’m attending) has been the incredibly diverse collection of individuals I’ve gotten the chance to know. In my seminar group of nine students, 7 different countries are represented (not including my Scottish professor!) It’s incredible to be able to learn about other countries’ beliefs and ideologies from such a diverse group of people. Wonderfully enough, all of the conversations I’ve been able to have this past week have been nothing but respectful. It seems the people who have chosen to study in this program are equally as interested in discovering more about the world as respecting those new opinions they learn about. In preparing to study abroad, recognize that, whatever country/ religious group/ political party you identify with, you should be open to conversing with other people with different ideas—and look forward to lovely opportunities to learn from these experiences!

3. A little homesickness is natural

I’ve been living in Edinburgh, Scotland for exactly a week now. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. My professors are intelligent and interested in developing my education. My creative writing program is fascinating and challenging in a totally different way than I’ve ever experienced. I’m developing my sense of freedom and independence, walking along cobblestone streets, and discovering new history and literature every day. And yet, I still miss my family and friends from home. These emotions of missing home brought a bit of guilt with them at first—it feels as though I’m not taking full advantage of the great experiences offered to me here. But homesickness is a natural feeling no matter how wonderful your new/ temporary home may be. I still miss dinner with my family, my favorite brand of coffee creamer, and being in the same time zone as those I love. Everyone learns to navigate homesickness in their own way, but I’ve found that scheduling calls to look forward to and writing letters home are some of the things that have brought me comfort this week.

The first week living in a new place is always difficult, and living in a foreign country is even more overwhelming. But by anticipating some of the biggest obstacles you might face, you have a greater possibility of finding enjoyment in the exciting aspects of studying abroad. I’d love to hear from you—what are some things you’ve learned in your first few days abroad? What do you expect to learn during your time abroad? Thank you for continuing to follow along on this journey with me—I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Want more details on exactly what I’m experiencing abroad? Check out my daily program schedule here (I’m participating in the Creative Writing and Scottish Literature courses)