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The First Week Abroad: Some Do's and Don't's

January 25, 2018

Success! The plane has docked and the people have filed out, we've been bused to the airport terminal and I've been taxied to the apartment. With relative ease I've arrived in Shanghai and am now officially studying abroad. After having arrived and gotten somewhat more comfortable in what is undoubtedly still a very new environment to me, I think I can perhaps offer some tips for some of the more immediate, arrival-related minutia of studying abroad.

1. Don't freak out if there's a language barrier (If possible).This is may sound pretty intuitive, but planning for it and living it can sometimes be two different affairs. It's definitely also something I totally failed at. I thought that my Mandarin was going to get me much further than it actually did, but I was definitely mistaken. If IES Abroad didn't arrange for people to pick me up, I'd probably still be at the airport right now. I've also quickly learned that knowing how to read some of the menu is not sufficient when half the menu has 牛肉 on it. This really threw me not only because I had to really rely on others to help me survive, but also because I was so used to being able to communicate with the exactness that comes from native fluency that after arriving, I felt limited to the core by the limits of my Mandarin language abilities. If you end up going abroad in a country where you will experience a language barrier, don't think, like I did, that my language abilities diminished my person while abroad. You may not be able to communicate as gracefully or even as correctly as you can in your home country, but let that be a humble motive to learn more of the language of your host country. Don't think you're foolish for not having learned something that you haven't studied. This language barrier is your opportunity to study, and thus your opportunity to learn.

2. Try to explore early. It can seem somewhat intimidating at first to take a look around when everything in the city is so new and you're not very familiar with your environment, but your first couple weeks are also some of your slowest work-wise, so it's a great opportunity to do some traveling, even if it's just in your host city. Of course, make sure you do enough research that you don't get lost or end up in an unsafe area, but don't fear the unknown because otherwise it will never become known. I recommend familiarizing yourself with some of the essential spots that you'll frequent during your time abroad, such as the grocery store, the bank, the closest metro station, etc. This is something that I've been able to do quite well, although it's been made easy due to my program. Between China's extremely affordable food, living in downtown Shanghai, and incoporated class trips, it's been rather impossible to not walk the streets early.

3. Buddy up. In your first week you'll hopefully get to know some of the other people also in your program, who hopefully will end up being your first friends abroad. If so, you're in good shape, and if not, try to be brave in approaching others and getting to know the people around you. This is something that has probably already been ingrained into your mind by the various safety reminders you'll watch, read, and hear as you work torwards going abroad, but you want to make sure that you're doing that exploring and traveling that I've mentioned with others. Not only will it be safer, but you'll also have more fun if you share your experiences with your friends. This has also been something that has worked well for me, and good thing too, because considering the language barrier I've already spoken about, I'd have a much harder time knowing what to do and see if it weren't for my well-knowing, advanced-Mandarin-speaking classmates.

4. Give thanks and have fun! In the midst of the chaos that you may experience in your first week abroad, it is easy to become stressed or even feel as though you should have just stayed back home. But don't fret! This chaos and culture shock is certainly a part of the experience, but keep your eyes to the sky. You're living in a new country! With awesome new things to see, people to meet, food to try, and culture to be immersed in. You're in the middle of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, something you can tell your grandkids about. Be grateful! Because not many people get an opportunity like this, and no one will truly have the same experience you're having right now, and that's awesome.

I hope that you'll find these tips insightful, or at least interesting. My first week in Shanghai has been awesome, and I am as excited for the future as I am joyful in the moment. Thanks for reading this rather long post, or for at least skimming through. 再見!

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