What better way to celebrate my year and 3 month anniversary (…but who’s counting haha) of study abroad than through a post dedicated to study abroad tips! No but in all seriousness, I wanted to share some insight for those interested in or those who are already studying abroad. Let me know if you’re planning on studying abroad and where in the comments 🙂
1) Throw all your expectations out the window. Expectations can be toxic. No one should not expect an Eat Pray Love type of experience. Just pack with you a great deal of enthusiasm and flexibility and be open to the good, the bad, and the incredibly awkward.
2) Do research. This may seem as if I am slightly contradicting myself from the first point but I mean do research mostly in terms of language! It will help immensely to speak like locals if you want to make local friends. The last thing they are expecting is for you to be able to speak the language or the slang and when you do, BAM! Bonus points! It can also help you feel more connected to the culture and the place in general. Plus, when you go home, you can show all your friends how cool you are 😉 Just make sure you not only get the word but also the pronunciation through music or other means!
4) Keep a journal and rather than taking a bunch of photos, take videos! When I look back on past journal entries, they always make me smile. They can really help you understand the mindset you were in at the time and they can also help you grow and learn from experiences. Video is another amazing way to record memories. While photos are great (as a photographer I adore photos), videos can transport you right back to the moment.
5) Live with a host family if possible. Though I was nervous at the thought of living with a random family for 5 months, it turned out to be extremely beneficial in terms of learning the language, the culture, and being truly immersed. (A side note: Though I had a wonderful host family experience as did everyone else on my program, there are rare instances where you may have a serious issue with your host family situation. If this is the case please please please speak to program representatives, your host school or your home school. You have resources so don’t be afraid to speak up if you are uncomfortable!)
6) Make a bucket list before you leave. My friends and I waited until the last month to do this and ended up scrambling to do everything we wanted before leaving. If you make a list of things you want to see and do in your study abroad location, it will give you ideas for what to do on a day when you have absolutely no plans. Don’t be afraid to do these things by yourself too!
7) Don’t do any significant traveling outside of the country, etc. until a month after you arrive. My school told my fellow participants and I this and we didn’t quite understand why initially. Nevertheless I followed it, and am so glad I did. You want to familiarize yourself with everything that your new location has to offer. The more time you spend there, the more likely you are to making local friends and the faster it will grow to feel like home. If you are constantly on the go, it will just feel like one whirlwind of a semester and you won’t really connect with one location in particular. The best example of this is how people go to Europe to experience Europe and not any particular country. Regarding this I would say that you should evaluate what you want out of study abroad and act accordingly.
8) Talk, talk, and talk some more. Talk to the store owners/workers in your neighborhood, talk to your fellow classmates, talk to your host mom. You are only abroad for a short period of time so don’t let your nerves regarding your language abilities or your own personal shyness in general get to you! Seize every moment to talk and get to know people. Although not everyone you speak to will end up being friends with you, you will learn so much more about the place, people, and even yourself through every conversation. Of course, please be safe! I’m not telling you to go up to every stranger on the street and strike up a conversation here!
9) Get involved. Join any student groups or clubs. If there aren’t any, volunteer! Live in dorms or with roommates if a home-stay isn’t possible. If you have classes with locals, sit in a different seat every class for the first few classes if possible. Interact with different people until you find people you click with. This is especially important if you are traveling from your home school alone/are the only person in your program. All it takes most of the time is for you to get to know one person and then they’ll introduce you to a bunch of their friends. #instafamous hahaha
10) Never compare your experience to that of someone else. You have the power to make your experience whatever you want it to be. It’s really all about your attitude towards and reactions to situations. Also, although it may seem like someone may be having an amazing time and they are making a ton of new friends, they may still be incredibly homesick or sad. Everyone goes through the roller coaster ride of the different phases of study abroad, and all we can do is to maximize the time we spend exploring and putting ourselves out there given our individual time constraints.
*Bonus: All iPhone 5/5S phones are unlocked! This may not be news to you but unaware, I bought my little T9 Nokia flip phone and struggled to text in English or Spanish haha. If you are a part of the Apple clan, I suggest you use your phone there and just ask for a “microsim” from the shop/company you want to buy minutes from. This will save you SO much money on buying a new phone. Although my super cool vintage Nokia phone did make for an interesting conversation starter in Madrid…