Be prepared to engage with people, especially in an entirely different language. This means you have to be patient and persistent. I consider my Spanish to be quite good yet still struggled at times communicating with my host family. That is not to say you should be afraid, just be prepared to work harder than you did in your high school language class!
Also, you are diving into another culture. Be open-minded and willing to learn! I would ask my host family as many questions about their culture and was glad I did.
This can be an incredible experience, but you have to work for it and be willing to be determined in making it a great experience!
For me, a typical week consisted of 4 days of classes and two days of hospital clinical rotations (though other students had a community service position instead). Three day weekends allowed us to explore the country and go out with friends or on our own. Occasionally, a program-organized event was held on the weekend (like a trip to Nicaragua!).
I have to confess, I am a home body who has never been away from home/family for more than two weeks. A program in another country, even continent, for three months was a pretty scary notion.
I simply made myself open to accept help from others. If I had questions or concerns, my host family, program coordinators, even professors were willing to help. Then, I always kept in touch with family at least once a week, though usually more.
However, I made sure to give myself chances to develop my independence and not rely on others for every little thing. By the end of the program, I felt like a totally different person.
While being on our own can seem scary, we sometimes need some time on our own to find ourselves and develop confidence in ourselves. But I also learned to appreciate loved ones around me.
It's all about balance.
I have traveled extensively and think I would like to give some fundamental tips!
1. Don't you dare depend on westernized chains when you travel. Why would you want to visit McDonald's for breakfast when you have diners serving delicious Gallo pinto for 5 bucks? (Try it, it's so good!).
2. Money. It doesn't hurt to research methods of payment accepted in your country. Something else that helps is applying for a travel credit card without foreign transaction fees. My friends were getting money from ATMs with fees, but I was using my credit card for free wherever I went (except for bus fare).
3. Learn the language and make an effort to communicate with people. People are much more receptive to you and willing to help when they see you trying to engage with the culture!
4. Get ready to spend money on gifts for others and yourself. I literally stacked up on chocolates and coffee! (Please do try Costa Rican chocolate and coffee!)
5. Just enjoy yourself. Destress. Try new things and foods.