When I stepped off the plane in Prague, there were a lot of things I had not prepared for. I didn’t really know where my dorm was. I didn’t know the language. I barely knew what my summer reading assignments were. Worst of all (at least for my extra-extroverted self), I didn’t come to the Czech Republic with any friends or contacts.
One of the biggest advantages of studying abroad on a U program means that the university takes care of the biggest stresses of the study abroad experience. I had the study abroad department hold my hand as I applied for my visa, vigilantly make sure I signed up for classes and effortlessly promote cultural events starting the day I landed. Essentially, I touched foreign soil without many plans and that was okay. I didn’t have to worry. UM had my back.
My main fear for the first few weeks were that I myself– coming in with no friends in the program — would be aggressively excluded and unable to make good friends with people from UM let alone elsewhere. Maybe a pathetic fear but I could tell within a few days in Prague I wasn’t the only person who felt this way.
I unpacked my suitcases and started to walk through the sunflower yellow hallways of the Komenského dormitory that would soon enough become my home. My roommates, from Vancouver, Staten Island and a small town in Nebraska, slowly filtered their way in as well. Within a day, the building teemed with 20 something-year-olds ready to galavant their way through Czechia and the whole of Europe.
While I thought that different groups of people who came to Prague together would be exclusive, I have found that if you make the effort it is not true. Most students come abroad for new experiences and one of the most important experiences, for everyone, is meeting other students, whether from the US or elsewhere.
For others that are studying abroad and concerned about transitioning into a group of new friends, I suggest to push yourself. Pull your freshman self out of your body and think about what worked and what didn’t as you moved into the glorious cement hallways of Hecht and Stanford. Instead of ruminating over who will go to Italy with you for a long weekend, just ask. Rather than circling around people as they make plans, insert yourself into the plan and suggest ideas to incorporate yourself. Create a group chat and respond in it frequently enough that you are actually a part of the group. Be considerate. Especially for those on U programs, make an effort to know people not in your program — that could mean walking to class, a cup of coffee, or making a meal. Your best friend could very well be a student not from the University of Miami.
After having established friendships back at home, studying abroad can mean starting all over. Rather than looking at this as a loss and another obstacle of adjustment, look at it as an opportunity to make new memories with a different set of people — and maybe even learn something about yourself along the way.