How to prepare to study abroad

How can one prepare oneself for studying in the United States or another country?

The advice is the same as for the domestic students who change/transition from home like life to a college life — be open to new adventures, join student clubs, be open to share home traditions with other people, be yourself, make friends, participate in the college events… Attend the orientation meetings, become a tour guide of those orientation tours — that’s what my son did and became famous and made friends.” – Dr. Ludmila Smirnova – Associate Professor, Mount Saint Mary College

[This is] the URL for a culture site I turn to when advising students on such matters:  It is a database on the world’s cultures; students can see what is written on their own countries (and correct misinformation) and learn about other countries (kind of a cultural wikipedia). One thing that was suggested to us in learning other languages: live with a safe host family where the understanding is that only English will be spoken in the home. It can, of course, be hard to establish what constitutes “safe” in today’s world, but having someone already in the country to act as a “big brother/sister” to the learner is also a very good idea. If students are going together to a country, they should schedule weekly meetings (might this be handled using Skype?) to talk with their fellows and compare experiences and notes. Also, another thing we have always done in language learning: involve yourself with children’s activities–they love the attention and are patient with learners.” J. Randolph Radney, PhD, who has a great deal of cross-cultural experience with an organization called SIL, International, a UNESCO-recognized non-profit concern that works with minority languages of the world in translation and curriculum development.

Tire suas dúvidas sobre os tempos verbais, baixe um guia grátis da Englishtown: Guia de Tempos Verbais em Inglês. Ele contém um resumo bem estruturado para revisar os conceitos que você aprendeu na escola. Clique aqui e saiba como baixar!

Living abroad can be a rewarding, life-changing experience

To have a successful experience, it is recommended to be prepared to acclimate yourself to the new environment with realistic expectations, an open mind, a strong focus on your goal, and a willingness to try new things. Be an active participant in extracurricular activities (clubs, churches, associations, programs). Take advantage of the orientation sessions and planned social activities of the school where you are studying.

Whenever one makes a decision on where to study, it is important to find out as much as possible about the choices available. That is one good thing about the English Experts blog and forum–it provides information from Brazilians who have already experienced living, studying, or working in the United States or Britain. People have shared their experiences in an honest way that gives the blog readers who are contemplating a stay in Britain or the United States insights that we cannot find by googling for information on home stays, EFL programs, Study programs, English Language Schools, etc. at official sites.

When looking into a study abroad or immersion experience, it is helpful to decide on a goal for your trip. In the English Experts forum Flávia shared a detailed chronology with suggestions on how to best learn English by thoughtfully setting up a plan with a timeline, goals, monitoring your progress, and revising the goals as needed.

I recommend investing some thought in creating such a study travel survival plan, if you are going to spend time in a foreign country. If you have never left home, it may be a surprise how much of our well-being is based on a built in support system that we may not even be aware of.

Know what makes you feel good about yourself. Will you be able to find that in the place that you are going to visit? What activities do you enjoy in your daily life? Will you be able to continue them in the city where you will study English? Do you engage in activities that bring you into contact with other people who share a common interest, for example, playing soccer or chess?

When choosing your language school, it is important to see if:

  1. Their program is reliable and of high quality. The reliable programs are accredited. That means they have been tested by an independent agency and that they meet industry desirable standards, has examples.
  2. The program offers organized activities that you can participate in simply by showing up, without you having to organize something yourself or find out what there is to do in the town.
  3. It has a good housing situation conducive to being able to study in peace when you want, but also in a safe area where you can participate in cultural or recreational activities without fear for your safety.
  4. It has access to the kinds of activities that form your support group at home in your country (church, sports team, karate club, gym, choir, special interest hobby, etc.).

One blog forum reader, Hugo Girotto, went through some preparations before leaving on a month long trip to Canada. Another reader, luferom, spoke about the discouragement he felt (A má vontade de ingleses e americanos) when trying to speak with native speakers. But compare that with the very positive experience of another reader, Vivi Reis, who gave a very positive and inspiring report. gives another foreign student’s checklist of her experience studying at an American university.

I suggest that anyone who travels to another country to learn the language enroll in a good program, and also not have unreasonable expectations that everything will be easy. Make contingency plans (back up plans, plan B) for every day, outlining what you will do if nothing good spontaneously happens. Be active and involved, (don’t passively wait around) in reaching out for what you need or want to achieve.

I came across a very helpful series of youotube videos by Dan Fishel, taped during an orientation session for international students. I will recap them here, but recommend that people who want to plan a study trip abroad watch them for their full effect.

International Student Experience

Phase One

1. When you first arrive, you are in the honeymoon phase.
Everything seems fantastic and you are excited about the
wonderful opportunities awaiting you.

Phase Two

2. What am I doing here phase?
Feeling misunderstood. He felt that Americans are always saying they are happy, even if they are not.

3. Developing negative and simplistic views of Americans.

4. Seeking the company of people from your country

5. Extreme homesickness (saudades)

Phase Three

Where is Happy hour? Successful adaptation took an average one semester, beginning happy, crashing into homesickness for a while, the eventually mood rising and leveling off at well adjusted and happy again.

What helped him adjust was understanding the “American phrase book,” the cultural meaning behind the literal words. He gives very good, authentic examples in the videos.

The orientation for foreign students is well researched and includes charts of student progress and examples of slang and helpful cultural tips.

His advice (and mine as well): Challenge yourself. Make every day count. What you put in is what you get.

It’s like Khalil Gibran wrote:

Your living is determined not so much by what life brings to you as by the attitude you bring to life; not so much by what happens to you as by the way your mind looks at what happens”.

I wish all of you success in your English learning here on the blog, and cross my fingers (wish you luck and a great experience) for everyone who studies abroad.

Have a nice trip!

Webliography of videos I watched to research this topic

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Mary Ziller

I'm Mary Ziller. I tutor ESL at the IHM Lteracy Center in Philadelphia. I lived a year in Brazil where I became certified to teach English as a Foreign language.

12 comentários

  • 26/04/10  
    Pedro Ferreira diz: 1

    Thanks a lot for this helpful article. I really think studying one or two months abroad, and your advices are a good starting point.

  • 26/04/10  
    Flávia Magalhães diz: 2

    Dear Mary

    Thanks for mentioning my post here.

    And thanks for such a good article. I intend to take a one-month course in US and your tips will surely be very useful.


  • 26/04/10  
    Otávio diz: 3

    A very useful article, though there are plenty of difficult words( My english is not so good yet). I only wish that all articles had an audio file, it would help us a lot to train the pronounce.
    Thanks for this amazing blog:D

  • 26/04/10  
    Luiz diz: 4

    Thanks mary, excelente artigo!

    Eu nunca pensei por esse lado do choque cultural…realmente MUITO interessante.

  • 27/04/10  
    william diz: 5

    Why exclude South Africa, Por que excluem a Africa do sul? South Africa has a large speaking Portuguese speaking community. A Africa do sul tem um grande Poruguese comunidada que fala. That speak fluent English, isto diz ingles fluido. In Mozimbique Portuguese is the most widely spoken language.Em Mozimbique o Portuese e maior parte de widley lingua dita, and is a nabour to South Africa, e nabour a Africa do sul.

  • 27/04/10  
    Denis Albuquerque diz: 6

    Que belíssimo artigo. Muito boa esta explicação das três fases da experiência de estudar fora. Obrigado Mary.

  • 28/04/10  
    Luiz Otávio diz: 7

    Hello, Mary!

    Thanks for this excellent article. I have to say that I do enjoy your articles; they’re very useful for me, and for other students as well.

  • 30/04/10  
    bruna diz: 8

    adoro o blog, principalmente quando traz experiencias em NY, poderiam colocar tmb uma faixa d quanto é necessario pra passar um tempo la ex: 2 semanas, sei que é pedir d mais mas quem foi poderia falar assim por cima.

  • 02/05/10  
    MaryZiller diz: 9

    William, I did not exclude any country. Since this was a response to Luciana’s post comparing her personal experiences in the USA and UK, I looked for general information on studying abroad. Luciana will write about London and covered her experiences in the UK very well. So, since I am American, I thought it would be helpful to talk about studying in the US, the country with which I am more familiar.
    If anyone is interested, I would like to write a follow up post with more information.

  • 06/05/10  
    Cristiane diz: 10

    Este blog é tudo de bom! Vocês são ótimos e estão de parabéns! Obrigada pela ajuda, podem ter certeza que assim como eu, muitas pessoas estão aprendendo a gostar de inglês e achando que já não é tão impossível assim dominar essa língua rsrs

  • 10/05/10  
    Stan diz: 11

    very useful and interesting!!!
    congratulations for the article…wonderful!

  • 21/05/10  
    Vitor Oliveira diz: 12

    It’s amazing!