You may think this sounds crazy but hear me out!
When I was a freshman in high school I had to sign up for a foreign language. I chose Spanish because I thought it was the practical option. I wish now I’d chosen Latin, but such is life. Anyway, back to what I was saying…yes, when I was a high school freshman. I struggled with Spanish. I would learn vocabulary by comparing it to English words or phrases. Spanish grammar confounded me but honestly, at this point, with my poor foundational education so did English grammar. A final blow to my Spanish endeavor socked me late Spring semester when we had to move. Of course this move meant that I had to transfer schools (per usual) and landed in a different state’s school system late March. I barely passed and after that year left Spanish behind without thinking or knowing what I would do for a foreign language.
When I got to university the boy I was seeing signed up for Japanese and I thought, “Why the hell not?” As one does when they first sign up for university courses *smiles* To my shock and everyone’s shock when I tell them this story, I did really well. Japanese was easy for me! Why? Because I had no choice but to learn the language. The alphabet was completely different, no Latin characters. Nothing to compare the language to. If I wanted to learn it and I did because I needed to for the grade (its all about proper motivation), I just sank my teeth into the language. The more I learned, the more I enjoyed it.
Which brings me to my larger point, studying abroad is like learning Japanese. Even if you are studying in a Western or Westernized country, it is not your home country. Full stop. While there may be similarities like there was for me when I studied Spanish you’ll never fully learn the cultural language of the country if you keep comparing it to your home country. No, instead you need to fully immerse yourself in the new country you’re temporarily living in. Accepting the host country as a completely different place with its own history, culture, secrets, and troubles. Then you can more fully immerse yourself and have an authentic experience.