Things I Wish I Knew Before Studying Abroad
Tips for Your Time Abroad
Studying abroad is a life-changing undertaking that seriously everyone should do in college. However, there are a lot of little mistakes made once the process is begun and once your feet hit the ground. Here are a few specific and general things to know before taking off.
1. Work on applications with a buddy.
If anyone from your school or a nearby university is going through the same application process, work through it together. Mistakes are less frequent, and it's great to get to know them before you go abroad.
2. Knit sweaters are bad travel wear.
They will snag on everything including all the luggage you are trying to carry. To avoid difficulty, wear something that won't catch on everything you pass by.
3. Study the language a lot before you go.
Definitely learn simple things like asking where the bathroom or hospital is. You never know when you'll need either. Mango Languages is a great way to practice.
4. Practice conversions (feet to meters, etc.).
It makes life easier to actually know how far you're traveling. Perhaps switching over to the metric system would be the one good use of peer pressure to ever exist.
5. Explore your new city on Google maps.
It helps so, so much to have a basic understanding of your neighborhood and city before you leave. It makes the first few days easier and it's fun to recognize things you looked up online previously.
6. Understand how far your money will go.
Look up prices for places you want to travel before you go and compare it to what you are able to afford. The more you understand what destinations are important and what your bank account will allow, the simpler it will all be once you are there.
7. Set aside some money for surprises.
You never know what cool things await in the city that might require some extra money. Example: In Sevilla, rollerblading was very popular and I wanted to join a group, but blades were pretty expensive so I never got around to it.
8. Look into classroom set-ups.
The classes might not be as expected upon arrival. Example: In some cases, American study abroad students classes were entirely separate from "normal" classes, which can come as a surprise to the incoming students. Also, class size, how testing works, and if classes can be taken in English or in the country's language are all relevant as well.
9. Less is more.
It is better to spend more time in fewer places than a little time in a lot of places. Soaking in where you are is so much more valuable than dashing from place to place. Taking too many trips often results in forgetting a lot of the things you did and/or not being able to experience those things fully.
10. Be patient with yourself.
Some nights you will need to watch Netflix and not do anything. That's OK; living abroad can be overwhelming, and bad days happen no matter where you live or how cool your weekend trip to Paris was. However...
11. Push yourself to experience your city.
I often wish that instead of watching Netflix when I was tired, I sat in a nearby park or beside the river instead. Find a quiet place that you can rest but is still distinctly a part of your city. Example: One of my favorite memories is when I came home from a trip and was exhausted but took a little walk with my new book and found a place I had passed several times and not noticed. Sitting in my little neighborhood by the river reading a book was such a sweet moment that didn't take much energy and left me refreshed.
Special thanks to Amber Modena and Bekah Kienzle for their contributions.