Studying abroad during college is an experience recommended for every college student. Spending a semester or a year in another country may be the best education you've ever received, and no matter where you travel, you'll likely return home an altered, more mature individual with enlightened views about the world. Why is a study abroad experience so life-changing for college students? The answer actually has a lot to do with getting over culture shock for the first time in your life.
If you have never spent longer than a few weeks in another country, it is likely that you have never truly experienced culture shock. Culture shock is what comes after the excited, elevated feelings of being a tourist in a new place have worn off. You won't truly experience the shock of being in a country very different from your own unless you are staying in one place long-term. A semester or year studying abroad provides the perfect context for experiencing and, most importantly, letting go of culture shock.
What exactly is culture shock? The set of emotions experienced during culture shock can run the gamut from pleasant curiosity to irritation and even anger. After all, you will be living in a country that has different laws, social norms, gender roles, manners, and customs from the place where you grew up. You will experience a language barrier and even a body language barrier. You will make blunders and feel ill-equipped to digest what you are experiencing, at times. In other words, your cultural perceptions and the rules by which you have thus far lived your life will be challenged.
The good news is that culture shock goes away and is replaced with adjustment and feelings of acceptance for your host country's culture, beliefs, and values. It is the period of adjustment that provides the most educational moments, as you slowly begin to understand and embrace your host culture.
Of course, it is up to you to ease your transition into a new culture. Many students subconsciously critique their host country according to the standards of their own country. By adopting a tolerant attitude, you will soon begin to accept your host culture as an equally valid way of life.
It is helpful to arrive at your study-abroad destination with an open mind and the intent to meet the locals, see the world through their eyes, and experience their daily life. It will be much more difficult to adjust to your host country if you study abroad with the intent to carry on your same activities and ways of life. In order to expand your world view, you must try new things.
Homesickness for your own country is perfectly normal and to be expected. If you experience homesickness, don't fight it. It is your way of coming to terms with separation from your home and family, as well as the drastic cultural changes you may be experiencing.