3 Things You Shouldn’t Worry About on Your Study Abroad

Cathedral of St. Justus and St. Pastor, Alcalá de Henares, Spain

One of the most ubiquitous experiences of university is taking a semester (or two!) to study abroad in a foreign country. Lauded as one of the best ways to gain fluency in a second language and to step out of your comfort zone, study abroad terms come with a heap of benefits.

But what about the experience itself? As you’re settling into your residence or home stay, travel anxiety is acclimatizing too. Between learning a new language, navigating in another country, and fitting in homework, suddenly taking a study abroad can feel overwhelming. To truly enjoy your study abroad term, remember to leave these insecurities and worries behind.

1. What Other People Think of Your Language Proficiency

I cannot stress how important it is to completely ignore anyone’s judgement on your language abilities. Aside from your professors, the only person whose opinion matters about your skills is you!

Situations that seem mindless and easy in English, like buying food at the grocery store or browsing the news, are suddenly much larger tasks in an immersion environment. Every new speaker makes mistakes, and it’s completely natural.

Once when I took a workout class at my local gym, an older lady spoke to me in such rapid fire Spanish that I couldn’t comprehend her. She could have been complementing my Zumba moves, asking me if I had enough space, or insisting that I move over, but I had no idea! All I could do was look friendly and pretend I couldn’t hear her in the loud echoey space. It was embarrassing to say the least, but if you let every confused look or grammatical mistake get to you, you’ll never learn! Smile, realize you’re new, laugh it off, and keep practicing! Besides, you’re working on becoming bilingual; who could scoff at that?

2. Making Friends

Worrying about making friends is a universal anxiety. It happens to all of us, because we believe that without immediately making friends in a new situation, things will be more painful, awkward, and difficult.

There are two problems with this vein of thinking; the first is thinking that your life will wither into a pathetic abyss if you haven’t made a best friend by day two. (Spoiler alert, it won’t!) The second is that making friends as an exchange student or second language learner is actually pretty easy. It’s almost like first semester of first year, except no one is judging you and they all laugh at your (measly) jokes in your second tongue!

Even though you may feel intimidated at first, remember that these students have left their lives behind to have a grand adventure, and they’d love to make a friend like you.

3. Getting the Same Marks as in Canada

I know, this is a scary one! But bear with me; the marks that you received at UVic may very well be different from the marks you receive at your new university.

According to the UVic system, anything about 85% is an A. In my program at the Universidad de Alcalá in Spain, an 85% is a B, and a 75% is a C. Pay careful attention to your new grading scale, but realize that every university and professor grades differently. And if you’re in a foreign language immersion program like I am, your grades will often be lower because your language skills are not as high as in English.

It may seem disheartening, but lower grades don’t mean you’re doing poorly. Pay attention to your progress, and don’t compare your marks to those in your native tongue. Work on improving your language skills and asking questions, and your marks will rise naturally!

As a student in my first few weeks of a study abroad term, I’ve ran into more challenges and awkward moments in simple communication than I’d care to admit. But as I’ve acclimatized to my new environment, I’ve learned to leave these three insecurities behind. Now, I can happily focus on my studies and travel worry free; and I hope in the future, you can too!

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