How do you adjust to a new culture and life in a foreign country? How do you learn about that new culture's mind frame? What happens when as a student you enroll in a foreign study program? How do you make the transition from your culture, your frame of reference, to one you have never experienced before?
When you decide to enroll in a study-abroad program, it usually means that you want to experience something new and different in your life. You may be motivated for many different reasons including; learning a new language, a sense of adventure, a different academic experience, a career building investment, or a reunion with "old country" relatives. Regardless of the reason, the experience is looked forward to with anticipation and excitement and sometimes, some misgivings, fear of the unknown, or fear of loss. It becomes a trade off.
While it is exciting to anticipate a trip, students know they will have to say goodbye, sometimes for many months, to family, friends, girlfriends, boyfriends, and lifestyle. Feelings of occasional sadness about this and doubts about leaving are normal. Taking a few moments and pictures to cherish and making arrangements for some kind of ongoing communication may be helpful. It is important to have made a decision based on a careful mental analysis of the pros and cons of making the commitment. Once that is done, then you can go back to that reasoning if fear or doubts accumulate.
If you are a student preparing to study abroad, another good way to get mentally ready for a trip is to learn as much about the country and culture in which you'll be immersed as possible. You can be assisted with the nuts and bolts of getting ready (what to study, how to obtain necessary travel documentation, what to take, what to wear, where to stay etc.) by your school program officials, but the mental preparedness is up to you. The more you learn and understand about the country, its history, its customs, its food, its language, its geography, its politics, its music and popular culture, the more you will appreciate what you see, hear, taste, and smell once you get there.
There are many ways to access this information. Obviously, one of them is the Internet. Others may be reading books, talking to people who have been there, seeing movies about the country, or made by the country, learning as much of the language as you can before you go, or buying popular CDs of the culture.
One of the best and most fun ways to learn is to take a course in some aspect of that culture. This will help you learn along with others interested in the same thing. It helps give you a sense of endeavor or mission. For example Spain, if you know what the Royal Palace of Madrid or the Alhambra of Granada looks like, something about its history, architecture, and the people who occupied it, it will be far more exciting and awesome when you see it for real. Instead of being just another building, you will find yourself appreciating from foreknowledge its unique importance.
Once all the preparations are over and you have arrived in the new country, you will be delighted that your troubles have produced the xpected results. It will be a great experience at first, but little by little, you will be faced with aspects of the new culture that you do not understand and frustration will begin to show and overwhelm you before you realize what has happenned. You will need to be aware that this is normal and will happen to every one in one degree or another. It will be best for you to develop—or at least be aware of the skills needed to communicate cross culturally.
In an article entitled The American Culture and the Barriers To Communication you can learn about what culture is, the main causes for cross-cultural misunderstandings, and the attitudes and skills that we all need to communicate cross-culturally.