Avoiding culture shock: How to leave your anxieties behind as you study abroad

When I received my acceptance to the Danish Institute for Study Abroad in Copenhagen, Denmark, I took a big breath of relief and then proceeded to freak the Frankenstein out.

After weeks of assembling the application, writing the essays and surviving one close encounter with a scary woman from the Champaign Post Office concerning my passport, I can finally glimpse the light at the end of the tunnel. Denmark is just a health orientation and 17-hour plane ride away. Yet ever since I was accepted, the fear of my soon-to-be reality slowly, but surely has begun to creep in and unhinge my crazy. See example rant below:

Since I don’t speak the language of my host country, how in the world will I be able to communicate with the Danes I am supposed to be getting to know? How will I order a danish at a café if I can’t speak Danish? What if I say chocolate and they give me cheese? If I can’t eat my favorite kind of danish in Denmark, what can I do?!

This kind of frenzied anxiety took over my brain for about a week, but a call to my mother partially cured me. If she was weak with worry about my semester abroad, I had to appear strong and avoid nervous breakdowns over pastries.

Once she started rambling about Amanda Knox and what if I get lost, stolen, run over by a cyclist (they’re big into bikes in Copenhagen) and/or accused of murder, I realized that she could go crazy with concern for the both of us. To combat her fear I listed all the people I know who have gone abroad and have come back alive. It was a long list which included, Matthew Gilmer, junior in Business.

Gilmer, who studied abroad last spring in Milan, Italy, assured me that anxiety (personal and parental) is completely normal for any student who has never left the country (crossing into Canada via Niagara Falls doesn’t count). He said if you land in your host country prepared, there really is nothing to worry about. But, prepare you must.

Here’s some things Gilmer said you ought to keep in mind before packing your bags and hopping aboard your plane to go abroad:

*1. Get to know your University beforehand* — Everyone has their host city and country down pat, but often students forget to think about the actual school they will be attending. Gilmer said that before arriving at Milan he wished he had known more about the University’s reputation, the kinds of classes they offered, the size of campus and campus life in general.

*2. Understand your independence* — Gilmer noted that he really didn’t realize beforehand how completely independent you are on yourself when abroad.

“It’s a big commitment, and you can’t just go back home for a weekend whenever you feel like it,” he said.

If it’s necessary to be attached to the hip to someone at all times and the word “alone” tends to frighten, you may be in for a surprise.

*3. Expect to nurse some kind of homesickness hangover* — The very first day Gilmer was in Milan it was a Sunday and everything was closed and everyone he encountered on the street didn’t speak English. “That first day I was convinced I needed to go back home and try to salvage the rest of my semester,” Gilmer said. Missing your parents, friends, University and even language is normal.

Though it is an adjustment process, Gilmer promises you will be okay, just give it a few days and a chance to find friends.

_Emily is a junior in LAS_