Studying abroad can be an exciting, rewarding experience. It can also be a burdensome distraction for the new traveler. There are many things that are bound to be different, but you can hit the ground running if you know what to look for in order to adjust to your new surroundings seamlessly.
The first thing you need to do is allow yourself to settle in. Don't start looking to explore your new foreign city right away. Get used to your new schedule, new teachers, new classes, and new living environment. Whether you're studying abroad in college or participating in a high school exchange program, you'll need to find out how foreign schools function.
For many abroad high schools, classes end around lunchtime. This doesn't mean the workload is affected, however, so you may find yourself needing to adjust to more than just a different schedule. Even if you'll only be there for a short time and not a whole semester or more, it's important to let yourself acclimate to your surroundings. Neglecting this step could leave you feeling overwhelmed down the road.
Take time to find out how your new temporary home is different from the one in the States. Are the water faucets different? Are there only certain times of the day you can take a shower? It's common in some countries to limit showering times both for water conservation and as a courtesy to others (depending on the system, showering creates a good deal of pipe noise).
If you're being supplied with linens, do you have a towel and wash cloth? Some abroad dormitories charge extra for towels and don't supply hand/face cloths at all. Take an inventory of what you have and what you need to function comfortably.
Next look around your kitchen, if you have one. Take note of the smaller fridge and what appliances you have. Do you have a freezer? Look at your outlets - chances are you'll have to buy a converter. I highly recommend waiting to buy these abroad to ensure they work.
Even if the packaging says "universal," the converter might not work if bought in the States. Make sure to check with your dormitory/apartment landlord about which appliances may be banned due to power requirements. Some cities have ordinances restricting certain types of appliances because they are too wasteful.
Find out where, when, and how to do laundry. This varies country to country. Locate banks where you can exchange money, as well as the post office. Take note of their hours of operation; you'll probably find that they close during lunch and after dinner. Many businesses outside the States, especially smaller ones, will have similar hours.
If you eat out, make sure you know the difference between ordering water and non-bubbling water. In most European countries, simply asking for "water" will get you what is called "mineral water," which is bubbling. Many fruit juices and lemonades are also carbonated. Don't be afraid to ask your server about food and drinks of which you are unfamiliar.
These steps may seem like common sense, but they shouldn't be overlooked. Knowing your environment and feeling comfortable in it can make a big difference in your overall experience, affecting stress levels and your ability to concentrate on your studies. Put some time aside shortly after you arrive to take care of these simple steps before you venture any further - you won't regret it.