Author: Tristan Grizzle
Program: Business Administration – International Business
Study Abroad Location: Ghent, Belgium
I have lived within the city of Toronto my entire life. I can say that I am truly blessed that my parents have exposed me to many different cultures by allowing me to travel with them to many countries while growing up. My parents are also well experienced with working and studying abroad. They have provided me with a ton of tips and tricks to help me survive while on my adventure, all of which went in one ear and out the other because I was so excited, overwhelmed, and scared to be living in a different country for a long time.
When my trip began, I would have to say that my first few days in Ghent, Belgium were the most overwhelming and sometimes frightening for me. It wasn’t until my first week that I realized I was not at home anymore and there was no turning back – for a while. If you are a native English speaker like myself, you will feel totally lost when you look at all the non-English words everywhere. This overwhelming feeling may or may not come to you, especially if you are already an international student in Toronto; which is also one of the most multicultural cities in the world.
Here are some important tips and tricks that I have found helpful for dealing with the culture shock and that frightening feeling of studying abroad.
1. GET A SMARTPHONE
I am assuming that most students already have a smartphone this day and age, which is a very helpful tool to help you with studying and traveling abroad. Make sure that your phone is unlocked and that you can insert a SIM card from any other country in it. This way you will be able to make local calls at a cheap price, as well as use your phone to help you navigate around. Some of the apps that I found helpful were the following:
Facebook Messenger and Whats-app Messenger
These apps will help you call your friends and family back home if you have any questions or are just a little homesick.
This app is extremely helpful! You can simply point your camera at words and it will translate it to the language of your choice. I challenge all students to try their best to learn the national language of your study abroad location to fully embrace the culture. This app can really help get you started!
Google Maps is the most accurate navigation app out there. It also provides you with real-time transit times for traveling. This app definitely helped me on my first week. Sooner or later you won’t even need to use this app.
Google News & Weather
Know what’s going on where you are, and more importantly watch the weather forecast on a daily basis. It rains a lot here in Ghent, I am glad that this app reminded me to bring my umbrella with me on those super wet days.
2. EMBRACE THE CULTURE
Learn the national foods of your study abroad country, in Belgium they have delicious fries served with mayonnaise, mussels, chocolate (Godiva Chocolatier opened their first store in Brussels), and of course Belgian waffles.
3. ASK QUESTIONS AND MAKE FRIENDS
Try to do a little bit of research of your study abroad country before you arrive. Learn how to speak common phrases in Flemish (Belgian Dutch), learn whether they have a high-context or low-context society, and learn how to approach someone. In Belgium, I found that everyone here was very friendly; I have made a lot of friends with locals after approaching them. Most Belgians are extremely inviting once you approach them, so get out there and make some friends!
4. GET LOST
Sometimes getting lost isn’t a bad thing at all. You can sometimes find that you are actually not too far from home. Try to always walk around with your camera (or smartphone) so you can take amazing shots like these posted below. Join me on my journey through Belgium and the rest of Europe.