7 Stages of Adaptation When You First Study Abroad | Top Universities

7 Stages of Adaptation When You First Study Abroad

By Vyara Pancheva

Updated March 15, 2021 Updated March 15, 2021

It sounds so tempting to study abroad, doesn’t it? New beginning, new places, new people… something all of us want! Being young means being curious about everything; you simply want to go and explore the world, travel, socialize… and if that comes along with a diploma from a world renowned university, even better.

Studying abroad really is an exciting opportunity, and many strive hard for the moment when they receive the much-anticipated letter of acceptance. But (yes, there is a “but”) little do we realize what it actually means to live and study abroad, far from home. The whole process of looking for a university and applying is indeed very thrilling, but when you actually arrive at the destination you’ve chosen it’s a whole different story.

Adapting to your new environment can be a long and scary process, but not to fear. If you prepare yourself for the stages of adaptation you’re likely to experience, you will feel a bit better knowing that there is something (lots, in fact) to look forward to. Without further ado, here’s a guide to some of the common sensations and experiences you can expect to encounter when studying abroad for the first time:

1. Culture shock

When you first arrive at your study abroad destination, the first question that pops in your mind, quite frankly, is: “What am I doing here and why did I leave all my friends and family behind?!” The initial culture shock can be quite overwhelming, but you just need to get through it. During the first couple of days you probably won’t be able to sleep much, and will constantly want to speak to your loved ones. As long as you manage to deal with those fears for a week and not buy a ticket back home, you will be fine! That first culture shock stage can be quite scary, but the good news is, it passes quickly.

2. Overwhelming enthusiasm

After a sleepless week of constant worrying, you reach the point when you actually tell yourself: “Wait a minute! This place is actually quite interesting!” And that’s when the second stage begins. You immediately forget about all the culture shock-induced panic you felt just yesterday, and you feel absolutely overwhelmed with joy and curiosity. Everything is amazing, everything is new and interesting; even the smallest things start to impress you and you can’t believe that you were crying your eyes out just a few days ago. Enjoy.

3. Non-stop student parties

Now feeling happy and ready for adventures, you start meeting your new classmates and potential new friends. You find lots of people who are in the same boat as you and relate to them very easily – you all are international students and you all are so excited to be here! So let the student parties begin. This is usually the time called “Fresher’s Week”, and every day there’s some sort of an event or party, waiting for you to join. All in all that’s a great experience, but keep in mind that you will need your strength for the beginning of the semester, so do try to rest sometimes.

4. Motivation and inspiration

The student parties of Fresher’s Week come to an end, and the first semester begins. The first few days are absolutely incredible, since you start to realize that everything is so different, compared to back home, and you suddenly feel inspired and motivated to rule the world. You feel like you can achieve anything and that coming here was the best decision you ever made in your life.

5. Fear and panic

This previous stage doesn’t last for long, unfortunately. Soon after, you start to realize that you need to do thousands of coursework assignments, essays and projects, and panic hits you. “Oh, God, how will I ever graduate?!” You go back to fear and desperation, and constantly feel that what’s being asked of you is simply too much. The worst thing that can happen here is that you become so scared you don’t even try to do the work, and you simply waste your time worrying. Don’t! When you eventually start trying, you will realize it is actually doable. And if you speak to some of your course mates and university advisors, you’ll discover that almost everyone goes through this stage.

6. Homesickness

After a while, you get a bit tired of all the student parties and the university coursework, and you start thinking about home again. Just when you thought you were done feeling homesick, it hits you once more! This time it’s not that hard, because you now have some friends nearby and you have settled a bit. However, you start feeling nostalgic about all sorts of things – from your mother’s cooking to the friendly neighbor’s dog you used to walk.  This stage too shall pass, but of course you will always miss home from time to time.

7. Adaptation

After you have gone through the homesickness and nostalgia for the second time, you realize that you have actually adapted to your new life as an international student without even noticing. You have made friends, you attend university and complete your studies, you start getting familiar with the place – the local shops, clubs and parks – and slowly but surely you start feeling at home. Because it’s true what they say, “home is where your heart is” – and your heart will feel cosier in this new environment by the day.

This article was originally published in August 2014 . It was last updated in March 2021

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Written by

Vyara is a journalism graduate from the University of Westminster in London and currently an aspiring writer and blogger. She has produced a couple of video documentaries and has written pieces for several websites. Originally from Bulgaria, she is now living in London and loving it a lot! Rock music, sci-fi movies and travelling are amongst her biggest passions.


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