1. Expect to sometimes experience discomfort
Studying abroad will, without a doubt, push you outside of your comfort zone. I’ve felt awkward or out of place so many times this semester: in the extended family gatherings at my homestay, when conversations in Arabic pile on top of each other and I can’t understand any of it. When I venture out in a large group (i.e. more than two people) with the other students in my program. Even when pushing my way through the downtown Amman crowds, with vendors yelling the names of their products and too many people spilling off of the sidewalk.
In times of discomfort, I’ve found it helpful to remember that I was seeking to move out of my comfort zone when I decided to come here. When my social battery is running low and I’m feeling inadequate for living with a host family or unable to connect with my friends, I remind myself that this was my purpose in studying abroad. I expected to sometimes feel out of place and be pushed into discomfort. This is the only way to grow.
2. Fill your cup
While discomfort is important, it’s also important to take care of your mental health. You want to strike a balance between pushing yourself to grow and making sure to not burn out.
Before I left for the semester, I drafted a list of activities that fill my cup. Things like going on long walks, writing, and calling my family all help me to recharge my social battery so that I have the full capacity to enjoy trying new things and socializing in large groups.
Taking care of your mental health doesn’t have to mean that you stop engaging with the culture. Look for ways to learn more while also recharging. For me, I spent a lot of time this semester reading poetry by Arab and Muslim writers. Reading gives me life and is something I love to do. I was able to connect it to the place I am living so that I could learn more about the culture of this region, while at the same time letting myself be alone and recharge.
We will dance in the wreckage drink the coffee
our dead left brewing we will open our tombs
to windows for the sea in order
for the sea to remain besieged
Joudah, Fady. “Tell Life.” Poetry, November 2013.
3. Don’t compare
Everyone has a different experience with studying abroad. It is extremely unhelpful to compare yourself with other students in your program. Maybe they’ve made a bunch of local friends while you’ve only met a few people, or they spend their weekends going on day trips while you prefer to stick close to home.
Study abroad students all have different personalities, prior travel experiences, goals, and budgets. Moving out of the comfort zone looks different for everyone. Figure out what works best for you, and then stick to that. Don’t let comparisons get in the way—they’re never going to help you.
4. Embrace exploring by yourself
It took me some time to become comfortable enough in Amman to walk around alone, but once I did, it turned into one of my favorite things to do. Make sure you know how to be safe in your location (especially important if you’re a female student)—but then go exploring! An incomplete list of my favorite places I’ve gone on my own:
- Prince Hashem Bird Garden: in Shmeisani, the neighborhood next to mine, this was the first place I went by myself. It’s an adorable tiny zoo/park with birds, a playground, and benches that are great for picnicking.
- Suq al Jum’ah/Friday Market: this is a huge outdoor market that takes place on Thursday nights and Fridays. It sells mostly secondhand clothes for very low prices. It can be a little overwhelming, but I love going here when I have some extra time on the weekends.
- Jellyfish Boba: as I’m writing this, it’s been two days since my last visit. I need to go back soon, I think I’m starting to have withdrawal…
- Geocaching: such a great way to explore! I love going geocaching when I’m at home, but geocaching in a foreign country is a whole new level of fun.
If you’re an introvert thinking about studying abroad, I hope these tips will be helpful for you! Studying abroad doesn’t have to force you to pretend to be an extrovert or change your personality. It can actually help you to gain more appreciation for your own unique strengths.