There are 4 stages you go through when you study abroad:
1) Honeymoon Stage: This stage starts as soon as you step off the plane. After the sadness of parting from your family and the frustration to plan your study abroad, you have FINALLY arrived. You feel happy and excited to be in a new place. Everything feels amazing: food, music, the streets and language.
2) Cultural Confrontation (Frustration): This stage starts 3 – 6 weeks after arrival. Your feelings start to shift from positive to negative or extreme negative. Even though the buildings and streets are still beautiful and the food is tasty, you start missing your country’s food, familiar people, and the conveniences you had at home. The language becomes a challenge because it is very tiring translating everything, and a series of small events start creating this huge feeling of discomfort in you.
3) Cultural Adjustment: Cultural adjustment doesn’t mean full integration or acceptance. It means, however, that you are finally starting to feel comfortable. You have adjusted to the cultural differences, made friends, your language skills are improving and you start to look forward to further interactions and events in your host country to make your experience richer. You have adapted!
4) Acceptance “Home” Phase: This phase won’t be reached by every exchange student. Most students stop at the “Cultural Adjustment and Adaptation Phase.” The final stage is when this new culture is no longer “new” for you. You are now able to live successfully in your host country. It feels like a second home. The differences from your host country no longer upsets you, but rather adds to your personality dynamics. You appreciate both your culture and the culture from your host country, and you are able to live in both, and critique both.
As I haven’t studied these phases deeply, I can only guess that I am alternating between stages one and two. Because I am starting to integrate in the culture more by communicating with my neighbors; shopping for groceries and appliances; and helping people on the subway, I am starting to criticize it. 1 in every 10 situations I am faced with somebody angry at the fact that I cannot speak Polish. These situations leave me frustrated at the end of the day, and discourage me to interact again with polish people. However, every day I find a new adventure, a new thought, a new place to visit or a new restaurant to try that make my study abroad experience better, and I feel myself in the honeymoon phase again.
Part of my honeymoon was visiting Kraków for the first time last week. Kraków used to be the capital of Poland in 1038 for 500 years. Because Kraków was the only city in Poland that didn’t get ruined by World War 2, the beauty of the old town, palaces and cathedrals are breathtaking. They literally transform you into another century.
I traveled with Erasmus One to Wrocław and Kraków (another major city in Poland). Erasmus One are ESN alumni (Erasmus Student Nation) they plan trips for current erasmus students around Poland and Europe. This trip allowed me to meet people from Poznań, Gdańsk and other cities in Poland. Kraków is a lively never sleeping city with a lot of college students, parties, live music and festivals.
Warsaw, on the other hand, is different from Kraków as 85% of Warsaw was destroyed by the Warsaw Uprising and the Nazis. Even though Warsaw is the capital now, Kraków will always be the heart of Poland for me.
Tips and tricks that are making my study abroad easier/more effective:
- Long meaningful talks with my advisor. My advisor, Ewa, in the International Center of Kozminski University is a very educated friendly person. Through our talks I learned about Warsaw’s mentality, where to go for a ladies salon and what brand of water to buy at the Super Market.
- Downloading and using BlaBlaCar. BlaBlaCar is an application that connects you with people who are going to the same destination as yours. They could offer you a ride in exchange of a small fee (car pooling.) With BlaBlaCar I was able to get back from Kraków to Warsaw with 37zl (9$)
- The gym: being able to maintain the same routine you had at your home university would help you emotionally throughout your study abroad semester or year. The fitness classes at the gym such as Zumba and Aerobics encourage me to learn polish and interact with a different polish community other than my school and student life community.
- Language Applications: Duolingo is an app that teaches you new languages or improves your existing languages. It is an award winning app and thus I was motivated to download it. Duolingo helps me kill time while I commute to the University. Even though I am taking a polish class once a week, Duolingo helps me sustain what I already learned in class while keeping my memory fresh for the next class.
- Couchsurfing and AirBnB: As many of you know these two websites (they also have applications for your smartphone) are here to help you find accommodation wherever you want to go. The culture in Europe is all about traveling and meeting new people. It is like its own melting pot and most people know more than 2 languages and have backpacked through Europe or Asia. Couchsurfing and AirBnb help you find accommodation in your desired destination when you decide to be like your fellow european buddies. Whereas Couchsurfing is free, AirBnb requires a fee like a hostel. Minyan and I booked a room in Kraków with AirBnB as we couldn’t find any available hostels for the night. Our experience was easy and comfortable. Overall, these apps are a real life saver if you are too late finding accommodation or stuck in a city with no where to sleep for the night.
- And lastly NoteSpirit, which I am using now to write this blog. Download any type of journal to write down your thoughts; whether it’s happy or sad. Whether it’s good or bad thought, it always feels relieving letting everything out. Most importantly it would be your new friend and the one you run home to whenever something big happens in your day. It will help you develop mentally as well as emotionally, and best of all it would be a visual/ written memories of your travel abroad experience for your future self.
Stay tuned as my next adventure is to the highlands 😉
*photo credits Minyan Wu (International Business Student at UM-Flint)