5 Keys to Maximize Your International Experience


Pauline Zweihaus abroad

Moving to another country to study and work is a difficult and brave choice to make, and it is definitely a life changing experience. However, it is not enough to pack your stuff in a suitcase and buy a plane ticket. Once you arrive in the new country, it is crucial to have the right mindset to get the most out of your time abroad. This will mean creating a comfortable situation for yourself where the normal challenges of adapting to a new environment are outweighed by the fun and good memories you make throughout this period. To give you a good start for getting into this mental groove, we want to offer you some advice coming from those who know best: former students who were right in your shoes just a few years ago.

(Reading time: 8 minutes, 40 seconds)

Be ready to learn. This might sound very basic and obvious, but it's important to be hungry for new input from everyone, everything, and everywhere, at all times. It does not only apply to your classes, but also to all the details in your environment. Learn how to navigate the roads and subway stations, learn tools to find good accommodation, learn about the habits and behaviors of the people around you, learn the country’s traditions and rules (and respect them!), etc. Even learn about yourself! You are in a brand-new situation where you are developing daily as a human being, so you may as well make the best out of it, right? And when in Germany, the most important is to learn NOT to walk in the bike lane (unless you are eager to learn new curse-words in German).

Do not sleep long hours! And with this we do not mean “stay up late” every night and party hard. Sleeping is crucial, even more so if you have to attend to classes and take tests. That’s why we encourage you to have enough time to relax. However, time is limited, and the goal is to make the most out of your international experience. So don’t spend 12 hours a day in the bed or on the couch. There’s no point in traveling to the other side of the world if you’re just going to stay inside an apartment. We encourage you to follow “the rule of 100%”. If you know how to structure your time, you can make time for everything: what you need to do, and what you want to do. Whatever you are doing at any given point, do it 100%. If you are in class or studying, focus 100%; if you go party, enjoy it 100% (don’t let your brain go into which assignments you still have to do); if you are relaxing, chill 100% (don’t let any outer stimuli disturb you). You get the point.

Take the initiative. As we talked about in our article about 10 Advantages of Having an International Experience ,  while being surrounded by another culture you have the chance to learn a gazillion new things. However, don’t ever forget that you can contribute with your own skills and your own culture to enrich the lives of those who are around you, just as much as they do yours. With this in mind, kill the shy part inside of you for good! We are sure you have some brilliant ideas, so don't be afraid of taking the initiative! In your place of study or work, you may be a unique source of information about your culture and the techniques used in your country to approach a task. Try to come up with ways to improve systems, bring new ideas to the team, and involve the rest of the members in them. You never know who you can inspire with the specific methods you use. Of course, this advice applies as well to your personal life. You are in a new country, come on! There is so much to explore! Be actively searching for new things to do in the city and try to expand your comfort zone, from sharing a picnic in a random park to attending to regional fests, seeing street artists, going to museums, concerts, organizing a game night, spending time in nature, etc. Don’t wait for plans to come to you. Be the one who makes them happen, and bring people together (best method of networking, by the way!). If at the end of your time abroad you are known as “the person who always had a plan in mind”, you did something right. Thank us later! ;)

Dedicate some time for introspection. With all you have read so far, you can see already that there is a lot (A LOT!!) of stimuli coming in, almost 24/7. In order not to get overwhelmed and saturated it is important that you also take some time (ideally every day) to stop for a second and dedicate a moment to yourself. Whether you are into meditation, or you destress by cooking or playing videogames, it is key that you find some minutes of peace. From time to time it’s also good to do some self-reflection and introspection. We know life abroad can be very challenging, and some days you will miss your homeland badly, or get annoyed with this new culture you are living in (and its bureaucracy!). Give yourself some space to reflect on what you are experiencing, take it all in, and see the other side of the coin. Hopefully you can acknowledge that you are partaking in a wonderful opportunity of a lifetime that many others will never have, so be grateful for it. Recharge your “good mood” batteries and start a new day!

Create relationships. Definitely the best tip to take into consideration every day during your time abroad. Notice that we are not telling you to just “make connections” but to “create relationships”. At the end of the day, what will make your time abroad memorable is the people you have shared it with. In a new country, mostly starting from scratch, we understand that it is challenging getting to know new people and creating your own “family” and social environment. May you be protected from possible scenarios like the Covid pandemic, too! Of course, how fast you are able to establish those first connections and how you develop socially is highly influenced by your own personality traits, the culture you’ve arrived in, and any inevitable bias or prejudices you and others may have. But you have got to try, because you never know who will be the person who opens doors for you in your future, either professionally or personally. In this blog we want to give you somewhere to start at least, so pay close attention:

  • Establish good relationships with the people you see the most: of course, we mean your classmates, coworkers, teachers, etc., but also your roommates, your neighbors, the attendant of that coffee shop or bakery that you visit almost every day. Learn their names, say hello every time you see them, and smile. You will be surprised at how much more comfortable life can be when all these people are “on your side”.
  • Keep connected to your roots: a terrible mistake some individuals make is this conception of “I’m only going to make German friends, so I can practice the language, and no friends of my own country”. Sorry, but wrong! There will be moments when you will really miss your culture, or you will need some help from someone who can truly understand what you are going through. The natives won’t. Find “your own kind”, but don’t close yourself off to only interacting with them. Diversify. That’s the key. Where to find them? You can start searching on Facebook groups, national associations or clubs, bars related to your culture, religious associations, or temples, etc.
  • Connect with people with your same interests: this is one of the best ways to diversify your network and proven to be one of the best ways to actually make German friends. Everyone has a passion. Follow yours and try to meet people that share that common interest. Painting? Hiking? Animal lover? Magic Cards? We can promise you there’s someone out there who you can talk endlessly with about what excites you. Find them through social media or local clubs. Good tools for this are platforms like Meet up, Facebook, or other local ones like Nebenan. And of course, any platform targeting your specific hobby.
  • Find a tandem partner to improve your language. Or two, or three! A tandem partner is a person who is native in a language you are interested in learning, and who is interested in learning the language you are native in. The purpose of a tandem partner is to exchange knowledge about both languages, having casual conversations in a social environment. You can meet to go for a walk or have a coffee. The good part of having a tandem partner is that they will help you correct the mistakes you still make in the foreign language and will be patient with you because they are struggling with the same in your language. What’s even better is that you make some of the best friends in the world, since you get to know them and do a lot of things together. Good tools to find partners are websites like tandempartner.org, tandem.net, or apps like Hello Talk, Tandem, or Busuu. Tinder works too, but on another level ;)
  • Connect to your industry: more specifically targeting to your professional development, it is essential to be on the radar of the people within your industry. Aside from LinkedIn and Xing, which you should actively take care of, there’s no better way to stay in contact with peers in your field than engaging in as many in-person affairs as possible and try to always interact with new people in them. We encourage you to attend conventions, fairs, events, and promotional activities related to your industry. You can find many of these events in traditional platforms like LinkedIn, Eventbrite, Facebook and other social media, and also in platforms like Meet up, which not only advertise leisure activities but also professional set ups.

Certainly, there are many more ways to maximize this chapter in your life, and we are sure you will come up with your own tools, finding what best fits your personality. Now, indeed, you are ready to pack your stuff and buy that plane ticket. Good luck on your adventure!

Do you want to make your international experience even longer by working after your studies? Then don’t miss the keys shared on this article about career development.

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