5 Tips to Make the Most Out of Your Study Abroad Program
So you’ve either decided or you're thinking about a doing a study abroad program. You’ve talked with other people about their experiences, and more than likely, they have a few regrets. Not regrets like “I wish I hadn’t gone” but more like “I wish I had spent more time people watching and traveling.” They have regrets because they weren’t fully prepared for the experience. So how do you plan for your semester abroad so it’s regret free? How do you squeeze every drop of experience out of those precious months? Here are some tips to make the most of it.
1. Deactivate Your Facebook
When studying abroad being away from your home, friends, family, and familiar cooking is rough. Everybody goes through homesickness in one way or another, but constantly looking at Facebook just makes it worse. Seeing pictures of home will make you wish you were there instead of traveling through Rome. You won’t be able to appreciate the beauty around you because of it. Oh look, your best friend just got engaged. Your sister just had a baby. You are missing out on important events while traveling!
When your plane lands in your country of choice, just deactivate your Facebook. Accept that you’re going to miss some stuff and focus on your experience. Change your social media habits so you are more tuned in to your foreign experience than your phone. If you’re looking to share your experiences with friends and loved ones, consider starting a travel blog or send emails. That way you can still stay connected, but will fight the depression of homesickness.
2. Do a Mix of On Campus and Online Classes
Remember that your study abroad program is going to include some “studying.” While you may be overwhelmed with a new culture, beautiful surroundings, and possibly a tricky language, keep up with your school work. Doing a mix of on campus and online classes gives you the best of both worlds. You get the opportunity to mingle, learn, and experience classes in the country by going on campus, but you also have a more flexible schedule with online classes.
You’ll love being physically in classes, making friends, learning from a professor, and seeing how different cultures treat college. It’s an experience you will cherish forever and will change who you view education. Online language classes give you the flexibility to go do stuff. Instead of being on campus most of the day, leaving only the evenings and weekends for travel and activities, you can plan entire day trips. If you’re in mainland Europe, you can even do trips to different countries. It can be a little difficult adapting to online classes if you aren’t use to it, but the benefits speak for themselves.
3. Make Friends Outside of Other Exchange Students
If your semester abroad is a university program, you’ve probably been placed into a group of other exchange students. It’s basically a more adult version of the buddy system. If you get in trouble or need help, those students are there to assist. It’s a common mistake for people to just make friends with other exchange students. Go out and meet new people. Make connections with people in your classes and activities.
These are the people who know what’s fun in the area. They’ll show you what life in their country is really like, and really help you learn the language. If you become particularly close to some, they might even invite you to stay with them if you even come back to visit. This doesn’t mean avoid the other exchange students. Do become their friends. Sharing this experience with them creates strong friendships that you can take home. Plus, having a good buddy systems is important in case you end up stranded, in trouble or you wish to take a gap year.
4. See the “Tourist” Sites Immediately
If you’re studying in France, you’ll see the Eiffel Tower. You go to study in Italy, you’ll check out the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Travel to Russia, you’ll visit the Red Square. No matter where you go, there are always the big sites you have to visit. Plan on hitting up all of the major tourist attractions early on. That way, when life gets busy with studying, spending time with friends, and traveling, you won’t have to sacrifice seeing the sites. Plus, if there was a site you completely fell in love with, you’ll have time to visit it again.
5. Eat All of the Local Delicacies
Culture and food always go together, so don’t miss out. Even if the food seems weird/gross/wacky, try it at least once. You’ll develop new tastes, have a great story, and expand your horizons. Whether it’s a stereotype food like Haggis, or a food you have never heard of, just buy it and try it. If you really love a specific food, learn to make it well. That way, in a few months when you’re back home and craving it, you can whip it up yourself and take a trip down memory lane with your tongue.
Do you have some tips you want to share? Is there something you think everybody must do when they study abroad? Share in the comments below!