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  • Writer's pictureMichael Rovner

How to get your study abroad experience back on track

Image Credit: Sarah Allam

Have you woken up one morning to realize your stay in Mexico is not a walk in Chapultepec Park? If so, you’re not alone. According to the U.S. State Department, over 300,000 Americans study, intern or volunteer abroad. While the benefits of studying abroad are undeniable and many view their travels as a formative experience, it is also true studying abroad comes with challenges.

If you’ve hit some bumps in your study abroad journey, first know that you are not alone. Many students have experienced similar feelings. Below we have listed some of the most common challenges students encounter when studying abroad, and some suggestions to help you cope and overcome these challenges.

Poor academic performance while enrolled in classes abroad

Just as you may have had to adjust your study habits when transitioning from high school to your U.S. college, so may you also have to adjust your academic habits when studying abroad. Foreign universities often have different academic expectations and ways of working from U.S. institutions. If you are traveling with your professor, lean on them for support the way you would at your home college. Drop in to see your instructor during office hours or make a one-on-one appointment to ask for advice navigating the academics at your foreign institution.

If you are not traveling with a chaperon from your home institution, you could consider asking a professor(s) at your host university for an appointment. Although the concept of “office hours” may not exist in universities overseas, you may find your professor is amenable to an ad hoc meeting to discuss their expectations and offer tips for how to succeed in their course. Another option is to form study groups with both local students and other students who are studying abroad. Not only is this a great way to tackle the challenges of academia, but also an opportunity to build camaraderie around a shared experience.

Challenges with making friends and assimilating into the local community

Building cross-cultural connections is one of the most frequently cited benefits of studying abroad. If you are finding it difficult to build those connections, we recommend doing an honest evaluation of your “authentic self,” or who you are at your core. What are your likes and dislikes, your values and priorities in life? Which of these attributes are immutable to your person and which are open to new ideas and new ways of thinking? Studying abroad should not require you to forsake your values, but it is an opportunity to challenge your beliefs and be open to new ways of thinking. Having a strong sense of self may help you build closer connections with others who may have a different worldview. Do not be afraid of the healthy tensions that occur when your ways of thinking are challenged by foreign cultures and customs.

Do not forget there is more that connects us than that sets us apart. Many cultures embrace athletics, arts and the opportunity to help others through volunteer work. Go out and explore opportunities to meet others who share similar interests in your host community. At First Trip, we believe global citizenship begins when you immerse yourself in a culture that is distinct from your own.


Homesickness is perhaps the most common challenge faced by students who study abroad. Missing friends and family are natural feelings when traveling abroad for an extended period of time. Although there is no substitute for in-person connection (hence the reason you studied abroad instead of reading about your host country in a textbook), the good news is that there are many options in the 21st century for staying connected to your friends and family back home. Emails, instant messages and videoconferencing make staying in touch easier than ever before. Take life one day at a time, and perhaps you schedule 15 minutes each day where you spend time writing or speaking with loved ones back home.

It may sound paradoxical, but one of the best ways to combat homesickness is to further immerse yourself in your host country. Keeping busy, making new friends and seeking new experiences will help you feel more at home. In this vein, if you are staying with a host family, do not be afraid to embrace them as your family away from your own family. Many students keep in touch with their host families long after they return home from their study abroad experience, and you should too!

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