Adjusting to a new place, a real roller coaster

Why adjusting to a new place can be hard and how to overcome obstacles

Two male students walking down stairs
How to get used to a new place?
Sam Timmerman Sam Timmerman

Your semester abroad is starting, and you moved to another city for an unforgettable experience. Although, everything is new and exciting, adjusting to a new place can be a roller coaster. In this article I will explain why moving abroad can be hard at times.

According to the SDT (Self-Determination Theory) humans have three emotional basic needs:
1 Autonomy
2 Competence
3 Relatedness


Three elements of the Self-Determination Theory

Moving to a new place to study abroad, can take all three of these needs away from you and leave you with overwhelm. Having to learn a new language might make you feel incompetent. Not knowing anybody might make you feel like you’re alone. The new responsibilities you’re taking on might make you feel like you’re losing all control. Understanding these feelings and knowing how to cater to your own needs, will help you to get used to your new home. I categorized the proces of adjusting in 5 stages:

Stage 1 The tourist

The first week everything is still new and exciting, and it will feel like you’re on vacation. In this phase most people are visiting  hotspots, searching for the best places to eat, and getting the lay of the land. My biggest tip for this stage: try new things, discover your new neighborhood, and have fun, but spend your time and money wisely. It’s easy to spend a lot of money on for example activities and clothes but try to remember that you have enough time to do all those things. Safe a little money and you’ll thank yourself later.

Stage 2 The social butterfly

After the first week or two it’s time for social activities. School is starting; welcome parties and introduction activities are popping up left and right, and everybody is making friends. You’re going to meet many kinds of people and not everybody is going to be your cup of tea. Invest time in yourself during this stage. You won’t be the first one to get a little lost in a whirlwind of new people and social activities.

Stage 3 The rollercoaster

At this point the overwhelm will probably start to set in. You’ve been keeping up with new friends, schoolwork, household chores and money all at once. Most people start to miss family and friends back home and although you’re having a good time, homesickness can really come to play at this time. Embrace the fact that you’re overwhelmed and don’t try to fight it. Instead of locking yourself in your room, call your mom a little more often, make plans with friends, take a long shower. Know that adjusting to a new place is hard for almost everybody. Eventually, you will get through it.

Stage 4 The local

Once you’ve passed the homesickness, you’ll start to settle down and get into routine. Things become easier. You’ll go to school, plan things with friends, and you’ll know your way around. Your new place will start to feel more and more like home. For most people, this is the best stage of studying abroad.

Stage 5 Saying goodbye

After a few months abroad, going back home might seem a little scary.  During these last few weeks, try to be in the moment. Think about the wonderful experiences you’ve had; the people you’ve met and the trips you’ve been on. Don’t dwell on the fact that you’re leaving soon, and enjoy your time while it lasts. Trust me, you will go home happy (a little broke maybe), and it’s all worth it!

Want to take a look at the atmosphere at an event for international students? Take a look at this video about making friends, cultural differences and other tricks while studying abroad!

Sam Timmerman

An international Communications student from the Netherlands. I love writing about lifestyle, health and my experiences abroad :)