Written by Meredith Berger (Washington University in St. Louis), Student Correspondent for CET Prague, Fall 2019
The classic ominous warning, “the first 24 hours of study abroad are the hardest,” rang true for many of the people I met within the first few days with CET in Prague. The first 24 hours are grueling. You arrive groggy, without a good night’s sleep, but must remain alert as you journey from the gate to baggage claim, from baggage claim to the van delivering you to your new apartment, and onward. Everyone attempts to be as friendly as possible, but there is no denying how difficult that can be after a draining flight. That being said, just because people are tired, does not mean that anxiety about embarking on your study abroad experience ceases. In fact, for many, it escalates greatly. The anxiety may not subside within the first 24 hours, but I put together a few pointers to aid in calming the nervous newbie-abroadie’s mind.
First off, I recommend that everyone coming abroad take the pressure off that this is supposed to be the best experience of your life. At the very least, do this for the first few days. The first 24 hours are all about getting acclimated and doing what you need in order to stay sane with such a change in your sleep schedule and a drastically new environment. If you put immense pressure on yourself to find your people within the first night, to get an amazing meal, to snap a great Instagram pic, to go out to a bar or club, or even just to know how to get to the metro from your apartment, you may be disappointed by how little you feel capable of accomplishing. The amazing parts of abroad all come with time, so if you expect the first 24 hours to be the best, they definitely will not be. Instead, set easy bars to clear. Something like texting your friends that you got there safely, unpacking your suitcase, or even taking a nice a shower.
There is no doubt that adjusting to a new time zone is difficult. It takes a few days to get the hang of it. Don’t freak out if you find yourself awake at 3 in the morning the first night when you have orientation the next day. There are a few strategies that can help with this. I know a bunch of my friends took melatonin that night, but I did not have any, so I resorted to more conventional measures. I turned on a light in my kitchen and read through the informational packets that CET left in the apartments for us. This helped me get a much better grasp on what my life would be like in Prague while also lulling me to sleep. The next few nights, I took time before bed to read a book I had brought from home as well. Another strategy of mine was just putting my phone on night shift mode and opening up Google maps and looking at all the restaurants and other businesses around my apartment. It was a way to get my bearings and plan out places I wanted to explore all while in the comfort of my own bed. Another easy way to decompress is to write down a narrative outlining what you did that day. It’s a great way to look back on all the fun, silly, or strange occurrences and work your brain so you become tired. However, even if these strategies don’t end up working, there is no harm in having an unusual sleep schedule for the first week. If you just let it be, the time adjustment will come, and you will start to feel like a normal person again.
My final recommendation is, when in doubt, ask your Czech roommate, or Google. If you find yourself stressing about how to do laundry, cook, locate a gym in your neighborhood, get to class, both your Czech roommate and Google are your best friends. Personally, I was very adamant about finding a good gym and I googled and googled until I couldn’t google anymore. I found many options and it made me feel so comforted to know what my choices were. I also was worried that I would have issues with the keys and locks to my apartment. My Czech roommate and I practiced until I was confident I wouldn’t be locked out whenever I got back to the apartment on my own. Essentially, whatever information you need in order to feel comforted within the first few days and beyond, ask these trusty friends.
Venturing abroad is a huge undertaking. It makes sense that, at the outset, it can be very draining, anxiety-inducing, and confusing. However, with these tips, my preliminary struggles were lessened, and I think sharing them will serve many others as well. If you take anything away from this post, I hope it’s the importance of easing into the abroad life without expecting too much from yourself or others at the start. Living abroad can be a slow burn, but it builds into something great.