Embrace It! A Few Tips On Making the Transition Abroad a Bit Easier

Maddy Mulder
September 27, 2019

Nice is not at all how I thought it would be. Despite my countless hours of research looking through guidebooks and blogs about Nice, the presence of palm trees here still took me completely by surprise. However, what has shocked me more than anything about Nice is how comfortable I immediately felt here. In many ways Nice reminds me a lot of where I grew up in Washington D.C, that is if D.C had a beachfront.

The fact that Nice immediately felt familiar to me made having a bus pass me by because I did not wave it down all that more shocking. In that moment I had forgotten that I was not, in fact, at home, but in a completely different country with different customs. It was during small moments like that one where I messed up because I was ignorant of local customs that I began to experience a bit of culture shock.

Worrying about failing to notice and mimic nuanced Niçoise habits began to make me feel very apprehensive anytime I would step outside. For me, culture-shock comes in the form of a subtle, ever-present feeling of trepidation about going out and interacting with a foreign culture. Luckily, once I became aware of my feelings, I set out to try and embrace my culture shock. Here are a few of the things I have done to make stepping out and into a new culture a bit easier:

1. Walk With Confidence

Chances are if you have a prolonged interaction with a local, they will figure out quickly that you are a foreigner, so you might as well embrace it! I have had wonderful experiences with incredibly kind people here in Nice who have, upon learning that I am a foreigner, gone out of their way to show me how to do something or have simply taken the time to converse with me so as to help me feel more comfortable and confident in my language skills (and I was terrified by the snooty and mean French stereotype before coming!).

2. Admit You Are A Foreigner

This tip applies to all walks of life. If you are nervous about going into a new place or situation take a deep breath, push your shoulders back, get your chin up, and act like you know exactly what you are doing. This can be difficult to do when you feel unsure or lost, but even imitating confidence can give you that little push you need to feel good about walking headfirst into an unfamiliar situation.

3. Hang Back

There have been countless times when I have not been clued in on a local custom and suffered for it – like missing a bus because I did not flag it down, or not bringing my own bag to the grocery store and having to carry all of my groceries by hand. Yet, I find that if I hang back a bit and simply observe and listen to the locals, I can better prepare for and adapt to new situations and habits.

4. Bring A Friend

When going into a new situation I have found that bringing a friend along helps ease my anxiety tremendously. With a friend, you have an extra set of eyes and an extra brain to help you manage new situations, plus if you mess up, you have someone to laugh about it with (laughing about your missteps is the best way to combat culture shock and feel good in a new country).

5. Ask!

No amount of pre-departure research can prepare you for everything you will encounter when you are actually abroad. So, make sure to take the time to read books and blogs on local customs, and if you are in a homestay (or if not find a local to ask) do not be afraid to ask them questions about their customs and habits - it’s a great way to start a good conversation at the dinner table.

6. Commit To Being Uncomfortable

Make a commitment to being uncomfortable while you are abroad so that you can grow and experience new things instead of staying holed up in your room. Trying to navigate a new city or speaking in a foreign language with locals (perhaps during a game of Petanque) can be a dread-inducing experience, but if you go abroad with a growth-oriented goal it makes these encounters a bit more manageable. Go in with the mindset that it is totally fine to make a fool of yourself because you have nothing to lose and everything to gain; a little pain in the moment will be well worth it if it means that you will one day be a confident world traveler fluent in multiple languages.

The anxiety induced by living in a foreign country almost stopped me from enjoying and getting the most out of my experience abroad. What helped me feel more comfortable and confident abroad was embracing who and where I was and setting a goal that I could focus on during the tough moments. That being said, I have found that the best thing you can do for yourself in any tough or uncomfortable situation is to lean into it and learn to laugh through it.

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Maddy Mulder

<p>Hello! I am a junior at the College of William and Mary studying global studies and data science, but my true loves are language learning and map-making. I enjoy reading and playing soccer, and I also love to bake, though I more resemble a candidate for Nailed It! then an actual baker. I am excited to go to France this fall so that I can practice my French with locals and eat some good food. For my next adventure abroad, I would love to go to China as I have recently begun to study Chinese and fallen in love with the Netflix show Wild China.</p>

2019 Fall
Home University:
College of William & Mary, The
Washington, D.C.
Global Studies
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