3 Keys to Being a Resilient Exchange Student

When you live abroad, you quickly find yourself in situations that knock you down. Do you have what it takes to be resilient?

A young man rests his head while grasping onto a subway handle on his way home.

A young man rests his head while grasping onto a subway handle on his way home.

For the past four decades, psychologists and psychiatrists have tried to uncover why certain children possess impressive inner resiliency. What began as a quest to understand the extraordinary resulted in a realization that resilience doesn’t come from rare and special qualities; it comes from surprisingly ordinary human adaptation systems.

These systems that enable children to thrive even in the face of severe adversity are particularly relevant to young adults adapting to life abroad.

Based on decades of research, here are three basic but powerful systems that characterize resilient individuals:


The death of a loved one. A tragic breakup. A severe injury. If you’re old enough to study abroad you should be capable of dealing with the problems that life throws at you, but that doesn’t cancel out the importance of having stable and supportive relationships in your life. Based on the social media posts of exchange students, the study abroad experience may seem like a dream free of any hardship. Don’t be fooled; exchange students aren’t immune to adversity. Competent and caring family members, friends and romantic partners can help us heal from toxic stress and bounce back quickly from tough times while living abroad. Who are the people in your life, whether physically present or a Skype call away, who will help you get back on your feet?

Two young girls walk down an alley together on their way to dinner.

Two young girls walk down an alley together on their way to dinner.


Do you know how to budget your money over the period of the semester, how to maintain composure when you’re unable to communicate effectively with locals and have the ability to deal with the stress of school in healthy ways such as exercise or dialogue? Self-control is the ability to monitor and control our own behavior, emotions or thoughts, altering them in accordance with the demands of the situation. This core emotional intelligence capacity is an essential characteristic of resilient individuals and those who have it are likely to thrive when adapting to a new school, friend group and culture far away from home. How would you rate your own self-control skills?


Do you believe in your ability to succeed? This is more than just evaluating whether you can pass all your courses -- we’re talking about self-efficacy. Your belief in your ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish tasks play an integral role in how you approach goals, tasks and challenges. Especially while studying abroad, believing in yourself matters. The exchange experience presents you with a gamut of tasks and challenges from the moment you arrive at the airport. If you don’t believe in yourself, navigating these basic challenges may seem exceptionally difficult and you might lose confidence in your own ability to persevere until the end of your term abroad. Moods, emotional states, physical reactions and stress levels can all impact how you feel about your personal abilities in a particular situation, so keep these in check to ensure maximum motivation.

Especially while studying abroad, believing in yourself matters.

I can’t ensure that evaluating yourself against these three adaptation systems will make your time abroad an amazing experience, but I am confident that when you get knocked down -- and you will get knocked down -- you will be able to get back on your feet much faster than others. Because in the end, that’s what resilience is all about.

Stay hungry, stay foolish.