Whether you’re a Canadian studying in Paris or a German studying in New York City, it’s imperative to make the most of your time studying abroad. It is, after all, a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so why not make it the best it can be?
Regardless of whether you’re in high school, college, or university, there are things you can do to enhance your experience and make the most out of your voyage overseas. Vacationing in a foreign land is one thing, but totally immersing yourself in the culture? That’s another.
But don’t worry! We’ve compiled this list of the top 10 ways to make the most of your study-abroad experience so you can enjoy every moment to the fullest. Safe travels!
1. Know before you go.
First, this means doing your research. You don’t want to get to your new country without knowing that its residents drive on the opposite side of the road, or that they eat with chopsticks instead of knives and forks. Really get to know the place before you arrive.
Learn the language, familiarize yourself with the culture, and try to imagine yourself as a local. Read books, watch shows, and ask questions about this new country where you’ll be spending a good chunk of time. The more you know about where you’re going and the culture of the people who live there, the more you’ll feel at home, and you’ll be able to adapt much more easily.
Second, find comfort in the fact that, while you will not find all the answers, you will learn a lot about yourself along the way. Many people travel with the sole purpose of finding answers to questions like these: What should I do with my life? What does it all mean? Why is German toilet paper like cardboard?
Well, it takes more than a semester abroad to figure it all out, but as you journey along in your study-abroad experience, you will learn a great deal about yourself, the world, and what truly makes you happy. Just remember that, while distance does bring insight, insight is not something that can be rushed. So take your time, live in the moment, and know that just by doing what you’re doing, you’re accomplishing a whole lot more than you think.
2. Buy experiences, not things.
You’ve probably heard it before, but I’ll say it again here: buy experiences, not things. By spending your money on intangible experiences and immaterial memories, you’ll have something much more fulfilling than the fleeting happiness an “I ♥ New York” mug or a tacky T-shirt might provide.
Make sure you’re spending your hard-earned cash on experiences that will stay with you forever. Souvenirs can get lost, broken, even stolen, but experiences give you something no one will be able to take away: anticipation, excitement, edification, culture, pleasure, nostalgia, memories, and, ultimately, real happiness. By their very nature, material possessions cannot provide you with these things; nor can they provide you with such long-lasting experiential pleasure.
In fact, research shows that anticipating an experience creates more happiness than anticipating something material, such as a new couch. The takeaway message here is simple: while it’s important to stick to a budget, it’s also important to spend your money on the right things (think quality).
After all, the feelings and memories of standing atop the Eiffel Tower will be with you forever. That plastic Eiffel Tower keychain? It doesn’t pack quite the same punch.
3. Don’t worry, be happy.
Know that you will experience emotional highs and lows; we all do. Whether you’re a homebody or a travel buff, you will have ups and downs during your time studying abroad, and this is normal. But don’t let the inevitable low moods and difficult experiences ruin all the great things that are happening.
Your trip will be what you make of it. If you choose to feel bummed out about things not always going according to plan, then you’re bound to have a less-than-awesome time. Yes, there will be times when you’re lonely, scared, and homesick. These feelings are normal, but they will pass.
Get out and sightsee. Check out a new farmer’s market. Meet other yogis at a yoga class. Whatever you do, acknowledge your negative feelings, but always know that there are lots of other people just like you in the exact same position. Learn and grow from the experience; keep calm and carry on!
4. Carpe diem.
If you truly want to make the most of this experience, step outside your comfort zone. (It’s cliché but true).
How many times in your life will you have this amazing opportunity to meet such diverse groups of people and immerse yourself in another culture? They say life begins the moment you step out of your comfort zone, and there’s no better time to do this than while studying abroad. After all, it’s when you’re out of your element that you really discover who you are.
It can be scary, challenging, and even chaotic at times, but I guarantee that you won’t regret one second of it; in fact, you’ll regret staying in your safe little bubble. So say yes, try new things, and open yourself to new experiences—you never know where they will lead!
This may come as a surprise, but . . . you’re going to have to do a little bit of studying while you’re abroad. (I know! How unfortunate!)
Remember, your studies are what brought you here in the first place. Just as you would back home, stay organized, keep up with your homework, and make friends with the people in your classes. Consider joining a study group; it’s a fun and valuable way to learn about a subject while getting to know your classmates better, and study groups can take some of the monotony out of studying alone.
Since your grades abroad still count toward your degree or diploma, it’s important to put in just as much (if not more!) effort as you would at home. Keep it up, and you won’t have to spend your time worrying about getting poor grades or failing a class.
6. Document your travels.
Keep a journal, write a blog, make notes on a napkin. Whatever medium you choose, take this study-abroad opportunity to document your experiences. You’ll be doing so much that it will be hard to remember all the details, so why not write them down?
Record your adventures so you’ll be able to share them with your friends and family. Writing about your experiences creates a lasting memento for when you return home and are feeling nostalgic. It also sparks your creativity and allows you to practice your writing while you’re away. (You can even practice writing in the language of your study-abroad country!)
If you are traveling to an English-speaking country and want to do a little learning during your travels, check out Scribendi.com’s comprehensive online grammar course, GrammarCamp. GrammarCamp will improve your written and spoken English while allowing you to learn at your own pace—wherever you are.
7. Expect the unexpected.
As with all things in life, plans don’t always work out the way you intend. But that’s okay, because sometimes having no plan actually turns out better than having one. Try not to worry when something doesn’t go exactly the way you thought it would. Things usually work themselves out in the end. As long as you keep a level head and trust that events will unfold as they’re supposed to, you’ll be okay.
A change in plans can teach you to be flexible and resilient, which will only help you in the future. Welcome the unforeseen. Embrace the unexpected. Celebrate the serendipitous.
8. Feel the love.
Socialize! Get excited about meeting new people!
One of the most exhilarating aspects of studying abroad is all the interesting people you meet along the way. Meeting people during such a pivotal life experience means that these new friends will likely stick around a while, and the memories you create together will only bring you closer.
While you’ll want to interact with people in other study-abroad groups, it’s also extremely important—and fun!—to meet the locals and do as they do. Have them teach you how things are done in their culture. You’ll find that people usually love to talk about their culture, their country, and themselves. It’s a two-way street, though, so be ready to teach them about your culture and country as well. If you ask me, it’s a win-win!
9. Be a tourist.
If there are sights you’ve always wanted to see or things you’ve always wanted to experience in your study-abroad country, check them off your list early so you won’t run the risk of missing them.
It’s okay to be a tourist! Don’t be ashamed of doing all the touristy things. The Eiffel Tower and Statue of Liberty are tourist attractions for a reason. Experience the sights for yourself, and don’t make apologies for being a tourist. (Be a polite tourist, of course, not an obnoxious one. If you are an obnoxious tourist, well, do be ashamed, at least a little bit.)
When your friends come to visit, they can be the tourists and you can be the tour guide. Trust me, they’ll appreciate it!
10. Stay safe!
Above all, stay safe. Make sure you know whom to call in case of an emergency, where to go if you get sick, and how to handle any health and safety issues that may pop up.
When it comes to your personal health and safety, you can’t have too much knowledge, so make a point of learning how to stay safe in your study-abroad country. From being wary of pickpockets to being cautious of public transportation to having an unlocked cell phone, there are many things you can learn and do before you get there that will help keep you safe during your travels.
It’s always important to be aware of your surroundings and to be street smart. Never assume that safety won’t be an issue for you, even (and especially) if you’re going to a popular tourist destination. Invest in a travel guide for your travel-abroad country, and meet people you can trust. Better to be safe than sorry!
We hope you’ve enjoyed our top 10 tips for how to make the most of your travel-abroad experience. Since the point of studying abroad is, ahem, to study, you may find it helpful to visit Scribendi.com’s online grammar course, GrammarCamp, to help you improve your written and spoken English. If you’re already a native English speaker, GrammarCamp can help improve your communication skills. If you’re a non-native English speaker, GrammarCamp can help improve your written and verbal communication skills while teaching you the nuances of the language. Either way, it’s an interactive way for you to learn at your own pace and in your own space.
Bon voyage, and safe travels to you as you embark on your journey and make the most of your study-abroad experience!
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