Few experiences offer as many learning opportunities as spending time abroad. However, close your eyes, and you’ll find those weeks and months disappear like sand through a sieve. A much better plan? Dig in and rule your time overseas with these ten ways to get the most out of your study abroad trip.
1. Get organized before leaving
Leaving paperwork to the last minute equals major headaches! Before you go, quiz your study advisor, professors, or former study abroad students on what is required of you in the preparation stage. Important things to consider include health insurance, budget planning, homestay arrangements, weather, and airport pickup.
2. Set goals for yourself
Whether you want to master a foreign language, dive into a new major, or work toward your dream degree, don’t take the “study” out of “study abroad.” This isn’t to say you can’t have fun while overseas – no doubt, there will be loads of it – but remember that your program is, above all, a chance to obtain important skills that will serve you in your future career.
3. Immerse in the local culture
Apart from knowing some of the local language, successful study abroad students absorb all they can about their soon-to-be-adopted culture before getting on the plane. Find books, movies, food, and music to inspire you. Research the culture’s prominent writers, singers, athletes, or actors and investigate current events. That way, you’ll already feel like you have a connection with your new home, as well as being well-versed in a few topics of conversation.
4. Keep your mind open
This tip is often given – and for good reason: It’s essential! Don’t arrive in your adopted country with a head full of stereotypes. Instead, open your eyes, relax, and breathe in the culture – you’ll likely see that many of your assumptions about life overseas were incorrect. Resist the urge to think or say, “Well, in my country we do things differently,” but go along for the ride instead.
5. Take cues from the locals
Whenever you’re not sure how to behave in a new situation, take a look around you: The locals are your best guides! When you first arrive, it’s a good idea to ask your host family or teachers about their culture’s customs and unspoken rules, and definitely continue to do so throughout your stay.
6. Learn new things
Sure, you may have gone to Barcelona to do a semester in Spanish or traveled to San Diego to improve your English – but don’t block out other experiences. Maybe you’ll be invited to salsa, cooking classes, or a hike in a world-famous national park. By saying yes to as many new experiences as you can, you’ll take home an arsenal of different skills you hadn’t imagined.
7. Deal with (possible) homesickness
Hiding away or ignoring these feelings will only make them worse. Instead, avoid bouts of homesickness by keeping in regular contact with your family and friends. Call, write, chat, and blog your way into their world and share what’s new in yours. But don’t forget your new friends and your new environment – there’s so much to discover, and keeping busy is a good way to cope with homesickness. Plus: Missing the comfort of your home usually won’t last forever and later, you might even feel “homesick” for your adopted country!
8. Watch your hip pocket
As tempting as it may be, resist the initial urge to blow your budget on gorgeous knickknacks, meals out, and traditional handicrafts. Remember, you’ll be in your new home for several months and your pennies need to last. To keep to a reasonable budget, use this time to learn how the locals eat and shop. Avoid paying more for services and transport by asking your teachers or host family what the local prices are. Our best tip? If your visa conditions allow, find a part-time job. Not only will your income increase, but your language skills will quadruple!
9. Expand your social circle
After class, don’t just run straight for the other study abroad students but make an effort to also befriend locals. Having at least one local friend will open doors up for you that not only mean a better understanding of your adopted culture but can also lead to invitations to special events, sports games, and typical festivals.
Don’t lose sight of why you are abroad in the first place. There will be times when your workload is high, you feel homesick, or just don’t want to study at all: But put your head down and dive right in! While it feels like a cliché, this experience overseas truly is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and if you take advantage of your time, you’ll enjoy the benefits for years.