Meschede, Calle, GERMANY – There are only few people who truly revel in being the “new kid.”
Most hope for the best, dreading the first days of their newness. If, however, these people were honest with themselves, they would easily see all the advantages of being new – a clean slate, a new start, the opportunity for new and profound experiences, a new reputation to gain and lots of fun.
Here are some tips based on my own experience of being not only the new kid, but also the half-foreigner in an American high school abroad.
First of all, be friendly to everyone. This goes not only for school, but for life itself. If someone smiles at you, smile back.
Even better, be the first to smile at people. Especially at the beginning of your newness, you are interesting and giving a good first impression of being outgoing and approachable opens doors for later on when people get to know you better.
Maybe a smile will lead to small-talk and an invitation to eat lunch together. Talk about yourself to others. They will be curious about where you are from, why you are there and what you hope to achieve during your stay.
Don’t expect the first friends you make to remain your friends. Oftentimes, you get to know people better and reorient yourself and find new groups of people. It takes time to really realize who you can relate to, so don’t be disappointed if first acquaintances ebb out with time.
Furthermore, you should not feel too shy to ask questions.
While everyone is interested in you, humans have a natural need to talk about themselves. Your questions serve two purposes here. On the one hand, you are learning more about your new environment, which will help you to feel more comfortable and at home, and on the other hand, you are gratifying your new friends by giving them the opportunity to help you and feel important.
It’s also important not to be scared to speak. Maybe you know the language, maybe you don’t. Maybe you think you know it. Regardless of all this, don’t be afraid to talk to your new friends and speak up in class. That way, you’ll learn faster.
A bonus can be that you unwittingly say things that are funny, and if you don’t take yourself too seriously, people will be able to laugh with you instead of laughing at you.
If you are just spending a semester or a year abroad, take classes that interest you rather than those that you think will be relevant to what’s being covered at home. You will have to catch up regardless of what you learn abroad, so try out something you might really enjoy.
Do not complain. Everyone has different views and you may not always be impressed by what you see in your new country and your new school. Try to keep this to yourself. But don’t lie, either.
If someone asks you honestly what bothers you, then tell them. Don’t be scared to voice your opinion, but do it nicely.
Even though people ask such questions, they do not always take criticism of their country and their lifestyle very well. You should be able to open their eyes to flaws and faults you may find, but keep in mind that these are simply your impressions and they will oftentimes not see eye to eye with you.
And finally, enjoy your time abroad. Do not take everything too seriously. Live for the day and try out different things. Make friends and don’t be sad if you lose contact once you go back home.
If you are scared and overwhelmed by all the new things, keep in mind that the more often you do this – confront new situations head-on – the better you will get at it, and the faster you will be able to revel in them.
And maybe soon, those few people you meet will turn into a whole lot more, and you will be one of them.
Katie Grosser is a Junior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.