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I have now lived in Prague for over three months, and life here feels completely natural, yet it wasn’t that long ago I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to make it work.
The idea of living abroad seems good in theory, but rather strange in practice. There is a language barrier, a new university to attend, and of course, a new and unique way of doing things. You try and prepare as best you can, yet the truth is you’ll never really know until you’ve moved.
I downloaded apps to help with the language barrier, and learned the number of taxi companies local to my area. I tried to learn what was around my new home and the route to my university, as well as key places of interest. Indeed, I did everything that I could to make the transition as easy as possible. It wasn’t until I moved that I realised how unnecessary this was.
It was fun to learn my way around once I was in Prague, and unsurprisingly the area looked different to the map on my phone, thus studying one would have only got me so far. Despite my fears about getting around safely, I learned that the underground runs until midnight, and trams run all through the day and night. There were plenty of shops in my area, and the place was well lit and busy. It appeared that all my fears were pointless.
As such, my first piece of advice to anyone preparing to study abroad, or even considering doing so, is not to overthink it, nor go mad with the research. It can be easy to think that the country you will live in might be very different to your own. The truth is it’ll likely be very similar, and while researching the country is important, it is not essential to know everything about the place on the first day. Part of the joy of moving away is exploring and finding out things as you go, so be open to adventures and learning when you’re out there.
My second piece of advice is to be brave, and go out and do things even if you don’t want to. It can be rather intimidating at first, as you’ll find yourself far away from friends and family, knowing few people, if any. You’ll have to get comfortable with your own company at first, and build the confidence to do things on your own, including going to social events. Doing so is the best way to make friends, even if it’s one of the hardest things you’ll need to do.
Socialising with strangers can be hard for people who are confident, so introverts and those with anxiety can find it especially difficult. As someone who isn’t naturally confident or sociable, going out and meeting new people was difficult. In truth, it was the hardest thing I have had to do so far, but it was undeniably worth it! No matter how difficult it can be, or how long it takes to make real friends, you have to keep a brave face and continue to go out and meet new people. Your university might organise events, but if they don’t, there will always be someone who does, you just need to keep looking.
Similar to above, you’ll need to find the confidence and perseverance to do the things you want, even if you end up doing them alone. No matter how long you’re abroad for, by the end it won’t feel nearly long enough. As such, it’s essential to take advantage of the opportunities available to you while you can. Travel to the places you want to go, both in your host country and surrounding places. Do the things which interest you, push the boundaries and explore what the country you’re studying in has to offer. Sometimes this’ll be on your own, other times you might have companions. Neither option is better than the other, as while travelling with friends is enjoyable and social, travelling on your own provides great insight into yourself. Additionally, it increases your confidence and independence.
Ultimately, the most important thing about living abroad is learning to push yourself and be open to new experiences. No matter how social you are, meeting new people and taking advantage of the opportunities available will significantly improve your time away. Of course, the kind of things you do, and thus people you meet, are up to you. Nights at clubs and bars will be a great way for some, while going on city walking tours or museum visits will be better for others. Joining clubs at your host university, getting a job, or volunteering, are all great ways to meet people as well.
There’s no pressure to act in a certain way or join in certain activities to make friends. The best way to make real friends is to do the things you enjoy and hope to meet people who share your interests. You just have to trust that if you put yourself out there you’ll meet people who will become good friends. Be assured that once you do, they will make your time away even more special than you might currently imagine.