Get to know the Area
Visit your local tourist office, station and townhall to pick up as much information about the local area as possible. This includes maps, leaflets and bus and train timetables.
Even though you may arrive in your new town and feel safe, don’t forget to be sensible. Find out when your last bus or train is and how frequent they are as soon as possible. Just like in the UK, public transport slows down everywhere on Sundays and even on weekdays, buses may be less frequent that you expected if you are in a remote location. Be prepared so that you don’t get caught out and find yourself stranded.
Public transport can also be expensive so if you’re going to be using it regularly, ask at your local station to find out if there are any railcards or concessions available.
Getting hold of a map of your local area to use while you find your bearings is not a bad idea either.
If you know that you are going to be coming home after the last bus, remember to get hold of a few taxi numbers in advance. Most taxi drivers have business cards on them so next time you see a parked taxi, go and ask for one.
NB: Remember to always let someone know if you are going to be away for the weekend or coming home late.
Join the ESN (Erasmus Student Network)
The Erasmus Student Network is a non-profit international student organisation that supports Erasmus students and makes it easy for Erasmus students to get in contact with other Erasmus students. It is active in 35 countries so click this link to find out more about how the ESN can help you on your year abroad: www.esn.org.
Unfortunately, the ESN is not yet active in every Erasmus destination, but most places will at least have a society similar to World@Warwick.
Look for a Buddy Scheme
Many universities run buddy schemes that pair up home students with international students. Joining a buddy scheme is therefore a great way to improve your language skills and make friends with a local student.
You may be asking yourself how on earth you are supposed to make friends in a foreign country. Well, never fear, because there are a few steps you can take to make sure that you meet people. The most important things aremaking an effort and putting yourself out there.
- Firstly, there is no harm in contacting the other Erasmus/exchange students at your university or other language assistants in your area. Spending ALL of your time with them is not a good way to learn the language but they will be in the same boat as you and can be a great support network in times of trouble and become a replacement family. If you’re feeling particularly homesick one day, chances are one of them will be too.
- Another great way to make friends is to find people with similar interests. So look for local sports clubs, dance classes, choirs...anything that appeals to you and sounds like an opportunity to meet people. By socialising over a shared interest, it removes the pressure on you to be funny or interesting which can be difficult in a foreign language and this is probably the best way to open up the door to joining friendship groups of locals.
- If you are an intern or a language assistant you may find it a bit harder to meet people of your own age than your friends on Erasmus. This does not mean that it cannot be done. Contact your local university and ask if you can take a class or two there. Many people take a language course, either in the local language or one they are trying to keep up. Remember, though, that doing a French course in France or a German course in Germany will only help you meet other foreigners. If you pick a language that is NOT the local language you are more likely to meet native speakers of the language you are there to learn. This would also be a brilliant opportunity to learn a new language!
- The utmost important thing is to take every opportunity that presents itself because you never know who you might meet and who will become your really good friends. This does not mean, however, that you should go off with strangers you meet in clubs. Being new somewhere means you must take extra care but it needn’t stop you having a good time. If you’re invited to a party or for a day out- GO. It may not sound like your cup of tea but you don’t know who you might meet and moreover, what new things you might discover.
- Make an effort to talk to the people sat next to you in lectures and seminars. That person sat next to you who never says a word may turn out to be one of your best friends once the ice is broken. Compared to in the UK, starting conversations with people you don’t know is often more normal in other countries. Personally, upon discovering this on my year abroad and working up the confidence to try it, going anywhere became so much more fun - you never knew who you were going to meet next! Go seek it: don’t just wait for people to talk to you first. Try making small talk and see where it goes... you might be surprised how open and happy to help people will be.
Explore Your New Country
Make sure you use your year abroad to travel. It is likely that you will have more freedom on your year abroad than you have ever had before- less academic pressure, more time on your hands and possibly a day off and a regular wage. Not to mention an Erasmus grant to spend! Make the most of all of this and explore the country as much as you can. Seize the day because the time will go quicker than you think.
Insider’s tip - Making exciting travel plans for the weekend is a great way to ward off homesickness.
Get used to traffic coming the other way
Getting used to a different road system can be as hard for pedestrians as it can be for drivers. Remember to look the other way when crossing the road and even when waiting for the bus. And if someone offers you a lift, get in on the other side.
J-walking is illegal in many countries so make sure you cross at proper crossings. In many European countries it is also illegal to cross the road while the red light is still on so wait for the green man or risk a 40 euro fine!