Moving to a new country is a popular ambition — one that comes up often, whether during a holiday when a friend insists that they “could totally live here” or in the midst of the dreaded “post-college” talk with your parents as you attempt to plan out the rest of your life.
Many Hopkins students have experienced moving internationally — nearly half of students get a taste of living in a foreign country through one of the study or research abroad programs offered by the Global Education Office. Also, the University welcomes around 13% of its incoming class from outside the United States, with over 51 countries currently represented on campus. This adds up to a ridiculous amount of air miles and, more importantly, a great deal of change.
Although this change may be welcomed, even desired, it can still be terrifying. I vividly remember arriving in the U.S. for my freshman year in August of 2021 and standing by an airport exit, thinking, “What’s next?”
Due to COVID-19 policies, my parents were unable to travel from Brazil to America, leaving me with the daunting responsibility of setting up my life in a brand-new country by myself. My first fall semester at Hopkins included some of the most taxing weeks of my life, but when I returned home to spend the winter holiday with my loved ones, they remarked on how different — perhaps more mature — I had become. Experiencing life in a new country is one of the best decisions I have made; it was not, however, one of the easiest.
Perhaps the reason why I found myself scared witless standing outside the arrivals lounge at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport was, in hindsight, how truly unprepared I was to go to college abroad. My making it through the first few weeks can be attributed to my kind roommate, CharMar and my parents’ willingness to stay up through the early hours of the morning on the phone with me.
It was such a radical change. During one of my first weeks here, I complained to a friend about how I couldn’t find any laundry detergent at CVS Pharmacy. Their perplexed exclamation of, “Just order it from Amazon!” was dumbfounding. In my home city, ordering items like laundry detergent or bath towels from online retailers like Amazon is not a common practice. We just walk to the store and, if they’re out, walk to the other seven or eight stores on the same block.
While culture shocks are a ubiquitous experience of arriving in a new country, the impact that they will have on your daily life is easy to underestimate. The good news is you can make a contingency plan. If you take some time to prepare yourself (which I did not), you can move abroad with realistic expectations and greater awareness of cultural differences.
Part of my difficulties in adjusting can be attributed to the romanticization of travel on social media. In particular, in a post-pandemic world, travel content on apps like Instagram and TikTok has exploded in popularity. It can be easy to get lost in an endless loop of videos showing glamorous beach trips, buzzy nights out with large groups of new friends and mouth-watering dishes.
Some days will be like that — you’ll score reasonably priced tickets to a good show or explore a great restaurant with a new friend. But there will definitely be moments where you will feel disappointed, perhaps regretful, in your decision to move if you are motivated by curated snapshots.
That being said, it is important to adjust your expectations and not base them off of carefully manufactured digital content. Since adjusting to life in Baltimore, I’ve learned to prioritize getting information from a wide variety of sources: Locals, other students, fellow expatriates from your country and articles in smaller, community-based newspapers are immensely helpful in preparing for a move. I encourage others getting ready to move abroad to figure out how the transportation system works and look for a grocery store near their accommodation (in advance).
In short, experience has taught me that when you’re getting ready to jet off to a new adventure, try to mix in some dry, practical plans alongside the more exciting ones.
Try to take a deep breath. Mistakes are a part of every college student's life, regardless of which institution they attend or the city they live in. That’s what I have been telling myself for the past two years here at Hopkins. Last week, I thought my class was in the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy and walked all the way to North Campus before checking the SIS webpage and seeing it was actually in Hodson Hall. Power-walking through campus (I hate being late), I realized how gorgeous the path behind Gilman is during the end of the summer.
It reminded me that fall is coming; before coming to Hopkins, I didn’t have the opportunity to experience this season. I also hadn’t yet met any of my friends here, who will undoubtedly find whatever new mistake I’ve made hilarious when I meet up with them for lunch. Those small, frequent moments will make up for any crises, I promise.
Julia Mendes Queiroz is a junior from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil studying Economics and International Studies.