Moving to another country is a big step for anyone and it is not something that should be decided upon lightly. Moving abroad for a gap year can be even harder. Younger people tend to have romantic illusions about life abroad and often become quite depressed when reality check comes knocking on their door.
We've all seen many movies (mostly American, mind you) where people move to another country or even to another continent, and it seems easy as if they moved two streets away from their parental home.
I don't want to scare you, however as an Aussie who studied in London I can say that based on my and experiences of others like me, it is not all sunshine and rainbows. Far from it, actually; and I didn't even have the problem of a language barrier. Always remember, everything becomes much easier as time goes by, and experiences you get while you are living in a foreign country are bound to be a very rewarding experience on many levels, and one that you will chersih for the rest of your life. However, it is not for the faint of heart and those that are easily discouraged, as taking such a huge change lightly may predestine you to failure.
The First Few Steps to prepare for your Study Abroad program
Applying for a visa and all the additional related paperwork can be a real hassle. Make sure you do all that as soon as you can, and that you prepare thoroughly. These applications take time to process and you can cause yourself a lot of stress and unpredictable problems if you wait until the last moment to fill the paperwork.
It is also wise to get health insurance before you go because you won't even think about being sick until it happens, and it will happen. Don't let it surprise you, as you can pay dearly if you happen to get food poisoning or sustain any injury that requires more than a quick exam and a prescription.
Book Your Flight In Time
Book a flight ticket as soon as you learn the date your semester is due to begin. You'll probably save a lot of money this way and you won't risk missing the first few days of school. Because you will likely be flying at least two times long distance, I suggest you sign up for a frequent flyer card , and use the points you accumulate to upgrade your future flights, enjoy perks or donate to charity, if that is your preference.
Start Learning The Language ASAP
Don't rely on learning the language after you've arrived, especially not on absorbing it effortlessly in a short time span. It will not happen. If you are completely unfamiliar with the particular language, it will be even harder. That is why it is advisable to take the language lessons as soon as you find out to which country you will go to. You may find yourself feeling like an idiot. Either way, you will have to put in lots of effort. Social interactions won't be a problem, as most young people all around the world have at least some basic understanding of English. However, this is not the case with older generations. So relax and don't be afraid to make a bit of a fool out of yourself when learning new words, as it is the only way to really learn a language.
Also, be aware that people tend to over pack. That is simply our way of dealing with insecurities that a big move carries. Just be aware of it and don't pack absolutely everything that comes to your mind. Some believe you should "pack everything you need and then leave half of it".
It is crucial to prepare for a big culture shock. Whatever you expect, be aware you'll probably be surprised, but getting to know cultural heritage of the country you will be living in will at least partially prepare you for what lays ahead. There will likely be many differences compared to your homeland, and you should try to adopt at least some of the local customs and habits, as it will help you feel more integrated and at home.
Remember that an experience like learning a language abroad will help you grow up, become more independent and mature and help you grow as a person in many ways, just don't rush into it, be cautious and responsible about everything, and always listen to advice from people who've been traveling here, living there.
Mark Tomich spent 4 years living in London. He is born in Australia, and now spends a lot of time flying back and forth between Brisbane and London. He loves his two children and has found a perfect wife while he was studying in the UK.