New campus. New students. New professors. New subjects. New regulations. New languages.
All of the change associated with studying at a new school is enough to drive even the most competent student mad.

Here are a couple of tips I picked up from my experience of “syllabus week” at a foreign university.

  1. Get enough sleep: Just like the day before a big exam, partying at the local bars until 2 a.m. is probably not the best idea. Imagine trying to find classes, speak in a different language and make a good first impression on your professors and peers if you can barely keep your eyelids open.
  2. Set two alarms: You don’t want to be late to your first day of class. You’ll never know if an alarm battery is going to die, if there’s going to be a power outage, if you’re going to hit “off” instead of “snooze.”  Better to be prepared than not.
  3. Eat a good breakfast: Eat some eggs with your bread (brain food!). Have a cup of coffee and a banana. Do everything you can to make sure your mind is ship-shape to take on the challenges of the day and week ahead.
  4. Pack wisely: A notebook, some pencils and pens, and some paper are all you’ll probably need the first day. Forgo the laptop until you know you can use it in class. Bring your phone, charged, and a map of campus in case you get lost.
  5. Arrive early: If you don’t know the campus (or even if you got a brief a tour), arrive to class at least 15, or better yet 30, minutes early. Leave more time if you’ve never traveled to the university itself, if you’re living off-campus, because you’ll probably get lost once or twice. Providing extra time in the morning will give you time to find both the building and the classroom, and you can always ask for directions if you know neither. That in turn will also give you time to make friends with your new peers or even talk to your professor. Which leads me to…
  6. Make friends: Introduce yourself. Wish somebody a friendly “hello.” Meet at least one person well enough to get their number. When you don’t understand an assignment, missed class, or, like me, just didn’t understand what just came out of the professor’s mouth, you’re going to appreciate having somebody you can reach out to with questions.
  7. Get started on homework early: If you need to find a book, find it. If you need to make copies of something, do it. Especially if your homework is in a different language from what you’re used to, you’ll appreciate having the extra time to get it done, rather than feel rushed the morning of your next class to get homework done. Which leads me to…
  8. Do your homework: Yes, that means all the readings, all the assignments, the extra credit if it’s offered. Step into each class knowing as much material as possible, making it that much easier to keep up with the new environment. This is particularly prescient to those studying at a university at which classes are in a different language than your native one.
  9. If you’re confused, ask somebody: Talk to your professor. Talk to your American counterparts. Talk to the native students at the university. Talk to the on-site study abroad office. There’s no use in reinventing the wheel or being a martyr, especially when your GPA, sanity and your study abroad experience are on the line. Somebody can and will help you, and nobody said you have to figure it out all on your own.
  10. Be open to changes: It’s entirely possible that everything I just wrote will not apply to you and your abroad institution. There will be similarities in your education abroad from your home university. But there will also be differences, such as the grading system, class sizes, lecture pace, student expectations, classroom decorum, you name it. You’re going to a new school, and the same amount of patience and flexibility you applied to your first day of American college, you should apply to your abroad institution.

IFSA-Butler alumni or current students: Did I forget anything? What strategies would you recommend? Leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you and maybe increase my chances of surviving the second week!