Tag Archives: studying abroad

Overcoming Living Abroad Challenges

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We often learn about all the adventurous and joyful stories of studying abroad. But what happens when life gets in the way? Studying and living abroad are very exciting life experiences, but they come with challenges. Below are some of the common challenges I have faced and insights about how to overcome them to make the most of your time abroad.

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Source: expatexchange.com

Insomnia: Time differences and foreign beds make insomnia a likely occurrence when moving abroad, especially when you first arrive to the destination. I experienced this intensely when I studied in Spain a few years ago. It took me almost a week to adjust to the time difference! Now in Paris, it took me no time whatsover to adjust to the time difference. My secret this time was to not take a nap when I first arrived on a Thursday morning, and to instead go to bed early that evening. I have experienced insomnia in recent days, likely related to doing too much (e-mails, studying, blogs, social media, chatting with friends) before bed. This is common for me even at home so I need to remember to give myself time to disconnect and unwind before bed.

Adapting to food: With a new destination comes new cuisine and dietary habits. I like to call myself a fish for the large quantity of water I prefer to drink. In Europe, I have felt like I have been living in a dessert because of the small portions of liquids and tiny cups to fill with water. In class, I bring two cups of water to make sure I stay hydrated throughout the day. I encourage you to bring a water bottle that you can easily refill (assuming that water is sanitary in your destination). It is also challenging to adapt to the timing of meals, quantity of food, and food content. For example, in the United States, I am used to Greek yogurt and fruit for breakfast at around 8am, a salad or sandwich for lunch at around 12pm, a protein bar at around 3pm, and meat/carbs/vegetables for dinner at 6:30pm. I have learned to let go of this expectation, as it is common to not eat snacks in France and to have dinner at 8pm (or 9pm for my host family). Despite Americans having a reputation for eating poorly, I have learned that I actually have access to more fruits and vegetables in the United States than in France. I have learned that Parisians often eat fruit as a dessert rather than a staple food for meals. Vegetables are often cooked or are prepared in soups rather than in the form of a salad. I have adapted to this custom, but also make sure to purchase salads and fruit when I eat at restaurants. Enjoying the local cuisine is part of learning process of living abroad, but make sure that you maintain a balanced diet to keep your digestive system in check!

Living with a host family and cultural differences: This is one of the best ways to fully immerse yourself into a new language and culture! However with that immersion comes the expectation that you will adjust your routines and adapt your behaviors to mesh well with your new family. It is sometimes difficult to let go of everything you know. Before moving abroad, I encourage you to research your new destinations and customs. For example, it is an adjustment for Americans to get used to the French greeting of a kiss on each cheek, rather than a handshake. The more informed you are about the new culture before arriving, the more mentally prepared you will feel. However, don’t be afraid of the unexpected – this is part of the adventure! I am still trying to figure out why my host family closes every door of every room in the house – but I am starting to realize it is a habit of privacy, which is less common in the United States and respectable in some ways. Adaptability is one of the most important life skills, especially in the ever-changing global world where we live.

Keeping in touch with loved ones: Time differences and new schedules make it difficult to contact our loved ones. However, modern technology has been a God-sent in our mobile world. My favorite communication tools are WhatsApp (free international messaging and calling) and Facebook messenger (which now allows international calling). I also plan Skype dates with friends and family to have an “as-close-as-possible” experience to chatting in-person. Postcards also seem to be a more thoughtful approach to staying in touch, since they take more effort and are a flashback to the past of international communication. I encourage you to use all the new applications, but don’t forget to be a little old-fashioned and send postcards, letters, and packages to stay in touch with your loved ones!

Making friends: This is often what intimidates people the most when moving abroad, especially because of language and culture barriers. A university setting caters to social networking with planned activities and field trips for students. For those outside of the university setting, check out http://www.meetup.com which provides networking groups related to any and all topics (local events, sports, arts, dating, etc.). I have enjoyed attending expat events in Paris, which includes expats from around the world. We can all relate to the adjustments involved in moving to Paris! Also, for those hoping to learn local languages, check out conversation circles. Especially if you speak English, many countries have conversation exchanges between English and the local language. I look forward to trying this in Paris. It is a win-win for me to practice French and help others practice English!

For those of you considering or in the process of moving abroad, you may face these challenges like I have, but I hope that you remember with any challenge comes a solution. Now that more and more people are moving abroad, there are more advice articles than ever before. Feel free to reach out if you have any questions about moving abroad!

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Transferring Lessons from Studying Abroad to the Working World

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Interested in learning how studying abroad as an undergraduate student influences your experience in the business world? My latest post for One World 365 describes how I have transferred lessons from studying abroad to the working world.

Now that I have made the transition from an undergraduate student to a young professional, it is interesting to think about what lessons I have learned that can transfer into the working world. With a few years since I studied abroad for a summer in Spain and during spring break in Chile, I continue to see the value of studying abroad and appreciate the lessons learned that help me in the workforce. Above all, I have developed a more global, open-minded perspective, which has been beneficial for me in all aspects of life.

I toured William Cole Vineyard in Casablanca Valley, Chile, which brought my University of Michigan Ross School of Business growth strategy coursework to life while learning about the wine industry and South American business.

I toured William Cole Vineyard in Casablanca Valley, Chile, which brought my University of Michigan Ross School of Business growth strategy coursework to life while learning about the wine industry and South American business.

What lessons from studying abroad still hold strong for me as a young professional?

Be ready and willing to adapt.

While studying abroad, we are forced to adapt to a new culture, language, and customs. For example, thinking back to my experience in Salamanca, I wrote in my blog, Spanish Adventures Revealed, that “People are meant to adapt to change.  I know how fast people adapt depends on their personality.  I’ve realized that it took me only a couple days to adapt to the Spanish lifestyle.  I’ve gone 6 weeks without ketchup, peanut butter, and more, and I’ve gotten used to it!  I don’t miss the food from home too much or my typical customs.  The main thing I’ve missed is access to WiFi because it has been my only way to communicate with friends and family (I have a Vodafone, but I avoid using it).  It will be weird having to adjust again when I return to the U.S.” In the real world, we consistently face changes, both in the office and outside of work. We need to learn how to adjust and make the most of changes that come our way.

Don’t stereotype.

Stereotypes are inevitable, but don’t rely on them.  While studying in Spain, I lived with a housemate from the United Arab Emirates.  Her primary language was English (not Arabic!), although she spoke Russian, Uzbek (she was born in Uzbekistan), Spanish, French and more.  She was Atheist (not Muslim!).  She was surprised when I did not drink coffee (because some foreigners think of Americans as always having a Starbucks coffee in their hands).  She was also surprised when I told her that not all Americans eat hamburgers and French fries or large portions in general (she decided to not study abroad in the U.S. because she thought she would get fat).  We had preconceived notions about each other based on stereotypes, but we were clearly wrong and learned so much about each other’s cultures. As a young professional, it is also important to not stereotype others based on age, background, work experience, etc. People are so much more than the labels that society places on them. We all possess unique characteristics and diversity that cannot be described through stereotypes.

Balance your work life and personal life.

While studying abroad, I was amazed by the European mindset to prioritize appreciating each day and enjoying life, rather than always worrying about work and achievement.  I began to recalibrate my priorities, switching my focus from purely achievement, to balancing achievement with enjoyment. As a young professional, I have transferred this wisdom and constantly think about maintaining balance in order for me to be productive, happy, and healthy both in and outside of work.

Live in the present.

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the future by constantly making plans and worrying about what will happen next or what consequences we will face as a result of our actions today.  Every day I have potential plans, but so many times when I think I’ll do something one day here, I end up saying “well, it depends what happens before.”  In my blog, Spanish Adventures Revealed, I wrote that “Enjoying each day for what it’s worth has been one of the most important things I learned while studying in Spain.  I think the siesta…time with family to eat lunch leisurely and relax…helped me appreciate each day more than I did in the U.S.  I bet that if the U.S. initiated a siesta, obesity, divorce, and heart attack rates would decrease tremendously.”

A few years later, I realize that a siesta is not realistic in the American business environment, but I do think it is important to live in the present. This is especially important with all the uncertainty and fast changes in the business world. Planning too far ahead can be a waste of time because there are so many variables that can completely change plans outside of our expectations. While I think that some futuristic thinking (such as visioning) is a wonderful part of business or life in general, I also think it is important to make the most of each day and take baby steps rather than overly focusing on big leaps into the future.

Conclusion

I will always remember my study abroad experiences fondly and am grateful for the lessons they have taught me and how they have prepared me for the workforce. I hope to continue to develop a global perspective by traveling, and reflecting on my daily experiences in my blog, inspirNational, which provides international inspiration for our everyday lives.

Read the original post,  Transferring Lessons from Studying Abroad to the Working World on One World 365.