Life Abroad

Communication

Make a plan with parents/friends/significant others. You will not be as accessible while abroad because of changes in time zone, activities, and phone/internet capabilities. Set expectations before you leave, remembering that you may not be able to alert individuals about your safe arrival immediately.

Write down important phone numbers and keep them in multiple places in case you lose your phone. Remember, you may not have the same data capabilities while abroad so you will want to be prepared. It’s a good idea to provide family in the US with your address, new phone number, and program contact information as well.

Cell phones

While it may be possible to turn on the international voice and data capabilities on your US-based cell phone, doing so could be very expensive. You may want to consider purchasing or renting a local phone upon arrival to your program. Note: your program may provide them, or can give you advice on the best plan for your situation. It is usually cheaper to buy a phone abroad with a pay-as-you-go plan, but this may vary. You can also look into “unlocking” your phone before you leave the US so you can use an international Sim card; ask your carrier. WiFi is often not as readily available abroad as it is in the US - don't expect to have internet access via your phone in the same way you do in the US. We strongly recommend that you have calling capabilities while abroad, especially in the event of an emergency.

Apps like Viber, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Skype, and Facebook will let you talk/text with family and friends back home for free while on WiFi. Make sure to download and learn how to use the apps before you leave the US - but keep in mind that WiFi is not as readily available or fast outside of the US. When traveling or living in a big city with public transportation, there are often apps that have real-time info on buses, trains, etc. to help you navigate. Often, national train systems have their own apps to check times and buy tickets.

Internet Access

Internet access varies greatly around the globe. Do not expect to have the same internet access in terms of availability and speed while abroad. Also remember that some countries (such as China) place significant limits on the websites that can be accessed. For example, Google and Gmail (including your Miami email) may not be accessible in China. Research and plan accordingly.

Practice internet security when on public WiFi. Students can be easier targets for hackers. Protect passwords and personal information to reduce the risk of identity theft. All Miami students and employees have access to a Virtual Personal Network (VPN), which can provide more secure internet access and provide access to resources available through Miami's network. Learn more about VPN on the IT Services site. NOTE: VPNs can be illegal or discouraged in some countries, do research before you go.

Social Media

Consider limiting your use of social media abroad. While every experience is different, some students feel the constant connection to home limits their ability to interact with the local culture. Be cognizant of what you might be missing out on if you are viewing your host community only through the lens of your smartphone. The constant reminders of what is happening at home can keep you from appreciating the new and exciting experiences you are having abroad. Feel free to take a break or lessen the time spent online to make the most of your time abroad.

If you do use social media, consider using #MiamiOHAbroad and #MiamiOH so the greater Miami community can enjoy your posts!

Finances

You may want to order some local currency through your bank to use upon arrival. Give the bank several weeks to complete this order.

Research your bank's ATM and credit card policy on foreign transactions and fees and apply for a new card/account as necessary.

Call your bank and/or credit card company and tell them which countries you’ll be traveling to including transit countries and those you may visit outside of your program. Failure to do so could result in your card being unusable or frozen for fraud protection.

Have money accessible in multiple formats in case one fails (credit card/debit card/cash, etc.). Don’t keep all your money in one place (have a backup fund handy at your home base and when traveling).

Credit cards are becoming more commonly used, though some economies remain cash-based – a guidebook or program director can help you prepare for where you’ll need cash. Many countries are moving to chip+PIN, and cashiers may not be as familiar with our card-swiping system, check with your credit card company to see if you can upgrade your card.

Choose ATMs carefully. Your program can advise on reputable ATMs and how to avoid the local scams. You may be charged a foreign transaction fee, a fee from your bank and a fee from the bank where you’re taking out funds. Try to limit your withdrawals to limit these fees. If you do withdraw significant amounts of cash, be careful not to flash it around and draw unwanted attention to yourself.

Packing

Your program will be able to provide a packing list. Stick to the list and avoid bringing items that you likely will not need. Try to pack basic, versatile items that you can layer depending on the weather. Feel free to ask friends who have studied abroad how they would have packed differently.

Luggage

  • Check your airline’s website to find out about baggage restrictions (how many bags, weight restrictions, and what you can’t pack). In general, no more than two checked bags are needed.
  • Make sure your bags are labeled so that you can easily identify them. If you do not have one, ask the Study Abroad office for a luggage tag!
  • Be sure that you can lift and transport your bags. You may need to take them on/off public transportation or over cobblestone streets. To check this, pack your bags, take them for a walk around the block, THEN decide what you really need to bring!
  • Small appliances (hairdryers, shavers, etc.): Buy them there or do without! They will usually have different plugs and different voltage requirements and soon burn out.

Packing Your Carry-On

  • Check TSA for the most current carry-on restrictions.
  • Liquids/gels must be 3oz or smaller and in one quart-sized ziploc bag (larger containers can be checked)
  • Pack PJ’s/a change of clothes in case your flight or your checked bag is delayed, lost, etc.
  • Keep your passport and medication in your carry-on. Do NOT put them in your checked bag where they could be lost or stolen.
  • Eye mask and headphones, ear plugs, and reading material are good for long flights.

Culture Shock

What is Culture Shock?

Culture shock doesn't come from a specific event but from interacting in a new culture over a length time while not understanding the cultural cues. It is like trying to play a game of cards without knowing whether the Aces are high or low or if the Jack is wild. In the process, your own values and culture are called into question as you try to navigate your new home. It’s good to know the signs of culture shock so that you can recognize it in yourself or your classmates.

What should I expect?

Culture shock generally leads students to experience a series of ups and downs that we refer to as the “w-curve”. Be prepared for the emotional highs and lows and know that your classmates are experiencing them too. Embrace the discomfort knowing that in the end you will have a better understanding of who you are and differing cultural perspectives.

During culture shock, you might feel:

  • Lonely
  • Angry
  • Irritable
  • Homesick
  • Lost

You may experience:

  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Difficulty solving simple problems
  • Stereotyping new culture

Stages of Culture Shock

  1. Initial Euphoria
    You step off the plane in a new country and are excited about your new adventure. Everyone has told you what an amazing time you are going to have. You’re feeling prepared and ready to go.
  2. Irritation/Hostility
    The more you experience in your new country, the more you are able to notice differences. No matter what you do, you do not seem to fit quite right with the local culture. Even after all of those Spanish classes, ordering dinner seems like an ordeal. Instead of being excited by the idea of tapas, you think, “Why do the Spanish eat dinner so late? That can’t be good for digestion.” You’re in culture shock and suddenly small problems you would take in stride seem overwhelming. Your initial excitement turns to frustration or loneliness.
  3. Gradual Adjustment
    After giving yourself some time to adjust, you realize you’ve mastered the bus system or learned to use chopsticks. You can tell when the street vendor wants to chat about his family and when he is too busy. Your sense of normalcy returns as you create patterns and routine, which makes you feel more comfortable in your adopted home. It’s not so different here.
  4. Adaptation
    Without really noticing, you’ll realize that your new culture feels like home. Some of the new habits like train travel or afternoon tea you prefer more than your old habits. Though it may take many years, you may find that you become equally comfortable in both cultures.

Stages 2 and 3 may be experienced multiple times throughout your time abroad as you become more and more comfortable in your host culture. Frustration may occur the more you begin to notice the subtle cultural cues that affect the way people interact with you.

Most students experience a period of transition when they arrive in a new place, feeling out of step and unsure what is appropriate. Everything seems new and different from language to street signs to table manners.

What should I do?

  • Know before you go. Research the country and its culture. Your program may have a handbook that explains cultural customs. Read local news sites to learn about current events in your host country.
  • Try to understand the differences. Most traditions have a history and provide logical explanations for what you might find odd at first. Realize that your customs and traditions may seem bizarre to someone from your host country!
  • Remember that it’s ok to fail. Be prepared to laugh at your mistakes (Like that time you meant to tell your host family that you were full but instead said that you were pregnant, oops!)
  • Talk about your feelings and experiences, but don’t spend too much time being negative.
  • Make local friends and ask questions! They may also be genuinely curious about America and you can spark a great conversation.
  • Document your experiences in a journal or blog. Identify a specific event that was confusing to you. Re-read half-way through your stay. Does everything make sense now?
  • Trust that you will be fine. Take the highs with the lows and know that ultimately you will have a memorable experience.

Work to be:

  • Tolerant
  • Open-minded
  • Non-judgmental
  • Empathetic
  • Communicative
  • Flexible
  • Adaptable
  • Curious
  • Self-reliable
  • Willing to make mistakes

Student Counseling Service

If you find that you are having trouble managing the symptoms of culture shock, Miami University Student Counseling Services is available to you even while you abroad. To contact them, please call 513-529-4634 or email studentcounseling@MiamiOH.edu.

Culture Shock Resources

  • Bennett, Milton J. ed. Basic Concepts of Intercultural Communications. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 1998.
  • Kohls, L. Robert. Survival Kit for Overseas Living. Yarmouth, ME: Nicholas Brealey/Intercultural Press, 2001.
  • La Brack, B. (2013, January 10) What's up with culture? Retrieved from http://www2.pacific.edu/sis/culture/index.htm
  • Storti, Craig. The Art of Coming Home. Yarmouth, ME: Nicholas, Brealey/Intercultural Press, 2001.