Top 10 Tips To Make The Most Out Of Studying Abroad

You’ve made the life-changing decision to study abroad. Congratulations! Now what?

Preparing for your trip can be overwhelming. You’ve got so many adventures ahead of you! Is this going to be worth all the trouble? Don’t worry, there is no uncertainty about it: no matter what part of the world you’re going to, studying abroad will change your life. You’re about to get more opportunities and challenges thrown at you than you can keep up with. You’ll have chances to see the world, to take your life into your own hands, and to accomplish the things you’ve always wanted to. But it’s up to you to maximize your time down to the last possible second.

Remember that you’re time abroad is precious and limited. When it’s time to leave, you don’t want to have any regrets or wish you spent your time differently. These 10 tips to make the most out of studying abroad will help guide you in doing everything in your power to make your experience abroad the best it can be.


Dive headfirst into the new culture.

Before you leave on your trip, do your research on the country you’ll be living in for the next couple of months (or years). You want to start off knowing as much as possible about life and culture there. Studying up on the history and politics of the country can give you a better understanding of the social atmosphere. Inevitably, there’ll always be some culture shock when you first settle down in a new country, but you can mitigate it by being prepared. Learn the customs, manners, and the language if necessary. Try the foods you’ve never heard of. It won’t be what you’re used to, but embrace the culture, don’t fight it. Eventually, you won’t be able to remember a time when you lived without the things that were once so foreign to you.


Grow your social circle.

Go out of your way to meet people, especially people who are not from your home country and can teach you new things. You might be thinking: I’m never going to see any of these people again after this trip, and that’s probably true. But the people you surround yourself with will have a monumental effect on your overall experience. No, you don’t necessarily need to make irreplaceable or lifelong friendships, but shutting yourself in your room for the majority of your program is not the best use of your time abroad. Plus, at some point you’re going to need to ask for help or directions, so being social is good for more than just making friends, it’s a survival skill. Your social circle also includes your professors. Try to make a good impression on them since you’re representing your home country, and have a good relationship with the head of your program or university. You never know, the professional connections you make might be leads to your career in the future.


Travel.

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In your first few weeks, it’s a good idea to book tours or organize group trips. The sooner you book your trips, the cheaper, so get this done right away. Take advantage of your tour guides; they’re usually informative about the most famous sites, the most popular restaurants, the most impressive views, and they know valuable information like which places you must see and which places you can get away with skipping. Do some exploring and get to know your new city. When you get a little more accustomed to traveling, don’t be afraid to strike out on your own. Be friendly with others, but be dependent on yourself; you don’t want to be held back by other people. Your plans should revolve around your own needs, so don’t let anyone else hijack your experience. There’s a pleasant sense of accomplishment that comes of planning your own trips and figuring out how to get where you want to solo. It might look daunting, but trust yourself. You’ll become more independent, and you’ll return to your own country with a lot more confidence than you left with.


Be safe.

Even if you lived on your own before, you’ll probably have more freedom abroad than you ever did. Now you have to know how to take care of yourself in a brand new place. One of the first things you should do after arriving is to learn the numbers to call authorities in case of an emergency. Organize your finances carefully, especially when traveling- transferring currencies can be tricky. Be over-prepared for anything wherever you go, and use common sense. Don’t walk down the street while looking down at your phone, and hang your bag around across your body so you’re less likely to leave it somewhere. Stay alert when you’re traveling, and be aware of the traffic laws in that country- they might drive on the opposite side of the street than back home. Be mindful of the weather, and dress appropriately. Taking responsible safety measures is a good habit that will benefit you back home and for the rest of your life.


Make time for self-care.

Between classes, meeting new people, traveling, and all your other activities, studying abroad is mentally and physically draining. You might be too excited to notice at first, but if you’re not taking time to breathe, exhaustion will start to catch up with after the first few months. Rest is just as important as action when you’re studying abroad. Take care of your body by getting enough sleep and exercise, and don’t fill up your schedule so you don’t have any free time. Allocating time for yourself could mean going for walks, meditating, or even just taking naps- just make sure you have the energy and bandwidth you’ll need to go out and appreciate all those amazing sights to the fullest.


Take risks.

Nobody in this country knows you, so, do things you normally wouldn’t. You’ll find that nobody there cares what you do, whether it’s bursting into song or dancing in the middle of the sidewalk just because you feel like it. Now’s your chance to reinvent your identity, become someone new.  Get that haircut you always wanted. Change your look. Be spontaneous. You’ll discover things about yourself you never knew before, do things you never thought you could do. You’ll surprise yourself. Without the expectations of others who’ve known you your whole life surrounding you, you have a lot of room for growth. You’ll come home with much more knowledge about yourself.


Budget wisely.

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Don’t fall into tourist traps, and don’t waste all your time and money in gift shops. The last thing you want is to run out of money in a foreign country. That said, you’re there to enjoy your time and to do that you can’t be frugal. You should be spending money while your abroad… on worthwhile experiences. Wondering which experiences are “worthwhile”? They’re personal and different for everyone. You should be able to tell for yourself which experiences are more worth having versus ones that are not, but if not you will eventually come to come to learn what will impact your life in a meaningful way. Spend your money on the right things- things that will matter to you and add to your experience.


Always have an open mind.

Studying abroad gives a new perspective, a chance to break out of your normal routine and think about what you really want out life. Learn new things, pick up new interests. Treat every day like a gift. Reserve judgment, ask for help when you need it, and listen to other people’s ideas. You might change your mind about a lot of things you were previously sure of. At times you’ll feel like a fish out of water. That’s good- it’s what studying abroad is all about. You didn’t come to another country to play it safe, you came to immerse yourself in another way of life and to have experiences you couldn’t have at home. You should be gravitating toward the unfamiliar, and learning what makes you happy in the process.


Don’t hide from homesickness.

You could be the most carefree person in the world, but homesickness will, to some degree, be a normal part of reality while you’re living abroad, even while you’re having an amazing time. Don’t ignore this feeling or pretend you don’t miss your family- it’s a completely natural response. Some things you can do to stay ahead of the homesickness are to keep in touch regularly with your parents, siblings, partner, or whoever it is you’re missing. Facetime, skype or Whatsapp will be your new best friends. Call your friends at home often and update them about both the exciting things you’ve been doing, and the mundane things happening in your life too. It helps to know what’s been going on in your absence.


Keep a positive attitude.

Being optimistic is essential when you’re studying abroad because things will without a doubt go wrong. Never assume that everything will be smooth sailing. You might not be used to the grading system there, you aren’t used to the public transport, plans are muddled, flights are missed or canceled… You can plan as thoroughly as you want, there will always be obstacles you didn’t foresee, mistakes you couldn’t prepare for. When things go awry abroad, you’ll feel it more. The friends and family that you’re used to turning to for support will not be there physically with you. Here, you will have to be your own support. Learn how to keep calm, stay level-headed when the going gets difficult. Be a problem solver and bounce back. This is another skill you might struggle with at first but with time will develop. Whatever adversity you face abroad, you’ll come back a stronger person because of it.

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Ultimately, your study abroad experience really depends on you. Think about why you made the decision to leave your friends, family, pets, and entire comfort zone behind, and live in a new country where you know no one. Was it for adventure or curiosity? To learn about a specific part of the world? To escape something, or to find something else? Make a plan for how you can address that. Come up with some goals for yourself so you can set out to do what you came abroad seeking. Studying abroad can and should be a wonderful experience that you come home from more knowledgeable, more cultured, and with a mountain of achievements under your belt. For all those of you studying abroad, best of luck! You’ve taken a bold step- now go and make the most of it.

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