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Puberty 2.0: Stages of Adjustment to Your Host Country

Claire OMalley
February 11, 2020

Acclimation to my semester in Nantes has been, and will continue to be, a long process; for my friends and I, it really does feel like puberty all over again. Our bodies are changing, such as my skin's backlash to my daily cheese intake. We have new responsibilities and challenges ahead of us, with 15-19 credit hours of French courses on our plates. And as though I'm back in 6th grade again, I find myself sweating so much (but maybe that's because I drink at least two cups of coffee daily!). Let's take a look into the delightfully daunting stages of Puberty 2.0: Stages of Adjustment to Your Host Country.

1. Everything is Perfect and I've Never Been So Excited! During your first few days abroad, you feel optimism everywhere you go. Even though you miss your friends a little bit, you only saw them a week ago, and you know you'll hear from them every single day this semester without fail! When you were a pubescent pre-teen, you were so proud to finally be in middle school, and so pumped to blossom into a beautiful teenager; in your host country, that anticipation and idealism is back in full force. This first week is full of fun moments, like getting your foreign phone number, meeting your delightful host family, and probably spending way too much on nice meals to enjoy local cuisine, because money feels unlimited at this point. Go crazy, let everyone at home know that you're ~abroad~ with a fun touristy pic, and enjoy the honeymoon phase!

2. I Definitely Know What I'm Doing Now. If you're like me, you're probably self-assured to a fault, and after a week or two abroad, you'll think you've got this study-abroad thing mastered. You've held real conversations in your second language, finished IES Abroad's thorough Orientation Week, and memorized your bus/tram stop. You're getting the hang of this, but caution! Don't get too cocky: things are coming a little easier now, but you're only 10% of the way into your program. You deserve to be super proud of everything you've accomplished so far, but hold off on calling yourself a native for now. There's always something new to learn.

3. Baby's First Study-Abroad Setbacks. Ruh roh! You encounter your first memorable stumbles, thanks to the vibe-check of culture shock. With the same dismay of finding your first pimple all those years ago, you might get super lost in your city, have an unpleasant brush with your host family, or get frustrated at the time difference back home. In the moment, these little scrapes can feel as traumatizing as when you dropped a tampon in front of the cutest guy in middle school. Don't let the little things get to you! Not everything will happen how you imagined it, but the exhilarating highs – even right at the start of your semester – will far outweigh the little bumps in the road. But most importantly, remember to keep your friends, family, and IES Abroad staff in the loop about any issues, big or small, that arise. They're here to help, so advocate for yourself! Studying abroad takes a village. (Or maybe a whole host country.)

4. Work Hard, Play Hard! Once your classes really get going, you'll remember that you actually have to study to study abroad! If you're a language immersion student, your brain will shift into fifth gear for all of your classes, which gives you a great runner's high. Choosing to take classes at a local university adds another challenge, and you'll get to know the education system in your host country. (You might start to miss the teaching methods in American universities. For once, I'm not even being sarcastic.) When you give presentations in another language, you might revert to your pubescent panic – God, why is everyone watching me?! – but you'll kill it every time. After studying Monday through Friday, the weekends are for exploring. Where are we going first? Milan, Madrid, or Marseille? The world is truly your oyster for the first time, and with state-of-the-art trains and inexpensive international flights, traveling has never been easier. Keep your friends with you, make sure you have enough phone data to get directions when necessary, and live it up for 48 hours before heading back to the grindstone!

5. I'll Never Know Exactly What I'm Doing, and I Think That's Okay. You've said au revoir to your jet lag, gotten acquainted with your city, and experienced major slight panic at the prospect of being away from home for 4 months. Your honeymoon phase is coming to an end, but it's not necessarily a bad thing: you can look at your host country's culture with some objectivity, acknowledging its benefits and downfalls. (The public transportation is fantastic, but it's not socially acceptable to wear leggings as pants!) By not comparing every detail to your home state or university, you start to feel less like a tourist and more like a local. Congratulations! Your semester abroad is passing at 100 miles per hour – or 161 kilometers per hour, sorry – so don't take a single second for granted.

At this point, I've been in Nantes for 5 weeks, so I won't claim to be an expert on the study abroad experience (although that really would be on-brand for me), nor will I promise that these stages are the same for everyone. I can say with great certainty, however, that no one arrives in their host country and has the same views, sentiments, and opinions during their fifth week as they did during their first. During my chaotic teenage years, I reminded myself to ride the waves instead of getting swept under, and that rings true while abroad. Allow these changes to pass by you. Just like puberty, not every day (or week) will be perfect, but every second will be worth it. 

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Claire OMalley

<p>Hi there! I'm Claire, Milwaukee born and raised. At Loyola University Chicago, I study Advertising/PR, French Literature, and Marketing. I love to create, whether it's playing my sax, designing advertisements, writing short stories, cooking tasty vegetarian food, or making really obscure rants about my niche hobbies, like astrology and 70s music. Follow me on Instagram at @claireomal for top-notch content and pictures of me trying to look above 5 feet tall.</p>

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