One thing about study abroad that can be overlooked is the connections you can make with other students. Exchange programs, like mine in Germany, allow you to make quick friends in your new home.
Often exchange programs offer you a Preparatory Language Program (PLP), where you take language courses to prepare you for study in a foreign university. Here you will meet other American students, who also will be nervous and excited just like you.
In my case, the PLP has 40 students from all over the California State University system. We are already fast friends, and many are making future plans to travel together during the semester breaks. Everyone has a different background but a common interest: German. While smaller groups often form, everyone gets along well with each other. We are staying with host families as well, and thus we have been put into different villages. This creates groups based on geography!
However, there is also the opportunity to meet foreign students in these PLPs. Our PLP features students from countries such as Switzerland, China, Venezuela, Tanzania and Russia. Often these students are also struggling with learning a new language. Many don’t even speak English yet, as everyone is a young person, friendships form easily.
Once the semester starts, the foreign universities will offer orientations and group meet ups. Here you can meet other students from other countries in Europe who will offer you insight into their culture. However, one thing to avoid is making friends only with English speakers. This will often hinder your ability to fully develop your language skills.
One great thing about universities in Europe is that they often a unique program called Tandem. This program pairs you with another student, who wants to learn English and will help you learn the language you are developing. Meeting up weekly for a coffee and talking for a few hours can often be a great stress reliever, and these new connections can lead to friendships that can last forever.
Students from previous years often suggest that having a mix of everything will allow you to enjoy everything that studying abroad has to offer. American friends can help you get over homesickness. Other international student can provide you with diverse opinions and often will gladly invite you to their countries. Finally, students who are from the country where you are studying will help you master the language and learn everything about their culture.
In the end, don’t worry — new friends exist everywhere.
Eduardo Santiago is a German major with a minor in international security and conflict resolution (ISCOR). He is studying in Tübingen, Germany for an entire academic year.