The Rollercoaster #1: Buckle in.

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Buckle in, ’cause you’re in for a ride.

Studying abroad is an experience like no other. It has often been equated to a ‘rollercoaster,’ with its ups and downs and the various stages many students find themselves in throughout their time abroad. In my experience, this analogy is on pointnokcr-wgcg0

From the moment you’ve said goodbye to friends and family at the airport and strapped into your airplane seat, the thrill begins. It can be overwhelming, exhilarating, terrifying and euphoric—all at once. There are major commonalities across all study abroad experiences, but just like there are different levels of ‘enthusiasm’ for theme parks and rollercoasters, no student will have the same experience.

In The Rollercoaster series, I will do my best to address various different aspects of “the ride” that is studying abroad, drawing from my experiences in different programs around the world with UCEAP. With my hindsight, I’m hoping to give you, incoming or current EAP students, insight into what lies up ahead and (in however small a way) help you make the most out of your time abroad.

But first, let’s talk a little bit about the ride itself.

The Ride: the ‘W-curve’

Adjusting to life abroad has been popularly modeled as the picture shows. There are two main “parts” to the ride: adjusting to life abroad and re-adjusting to life back home. For now, we’re just going to focus on the first part; it’s good to keep it in mind but no need to worry now (feel free to check out our Edinburgh Intern’s post on Reverse Homesickness, if you want to learn more).


The model is pretty self-explanatory: you live in your honeymoon bubble at first (“I love everything about the U.K.” “OMGee the accents” etc.), then the bubble bursts and you feel the culture shock (feeling of being lost—literally and metaphorically, your expectations differ from reality, etc.) at which point you begin the process of recovery from the shock and adjustment where you make changes to adapt to life in your new surroundings. This model, given its ‘simplicity,’ has reached great popularity. Nevertheless, research does not support its universality.

As I mentioned earlier, no students will have the same experience.  And so, the length of each stage, the factors that affect each stage, as well as the frequency of the cycle itself, will vary from student to student. So if what you are experiencing seems to differ from your friends around you, don’t let that discourage you.

Different People, Different Experiences

Personally, I found that each of my experiences abroad differed greatly, with different factors affecting my adjustment at each EAP destination. Studying in Tokyo, Japan, the Japanese language was one of the most interesting aspects of my honeymoon phase (I studied Linguistics as an undergrad, mind you), but as it became more and more of a barrier in everyday life, and as my language course became increasingly difficult, Japanese eventually became one of the biggest factors that I struggled to adjust to and cope with. The most comical/defeating moment in my struggle was when I missed my bus back to campus (TWICE) because I couldn’t read the direction of the bus in Japanese fast enough.

On the other hand, when I was studying in Madrid, Spain language difference was not much of a factor. Being a native Spanish speaker, I had much less trouble adjusting to using Spanish in various settings, even though Castilian and Mexican Spanish differ six-flags-roller-coasterquite a bit in lots of ways. Speaking the same language (more or less), however, made it much harder for me to cope with the differences in culture, particularly the academic one. For some reason I thought ‘hey, we speak the same language, so that must mean we do things similarly, right?’ … yeah, not the case.

Whether its the language, or the transportation system or the way the classroom is run, different factors are going to play into your experience of ‘the ride.’ Some of it you might see coming, and some of it, like that one drop on X2 at Six Flags, might very well creep up on you.

Hang in there. You got this.

The uncertainty of it all can be difficult to cope with, but the truth is that whether you spot the obstacle ahead or not, you are more than capable of meeting each challenge. It’s mqdefaultall easier said than done, you might say, which is very fair. My aim in this blog series, thus, is to give you advice, resources, and first-hand experience and empower you with ‘I got this’ attitude and confidence you need to make the ride as enjoyable as possible.

I want to end this post by congratulating you on making the first daring step, and signing up for this rollercoaster of a semester or year abroad. I guarantee that by the end of this whirlwind experience, when you finally step off the ride, you won’t be the same person as the one that stepped on. And I mean that in the most empowering sense.

Enjoy the ride,


P.S. Props to you if you recognize the rollercoaster in the first and last photo! Its my all time favorite 😉

If you want to learn more about the process of Cultural Adjustment and the research out there, here are a few useful links: Theory Reflections and Cultural Adjustment.

Please feel free to comment and share your thoughts, or email me, Esther, at If you have an experience you wish to share, please let me know and we can feature you in our Student Experiences!

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