Study Abroad Tips: How to Get the Most out of Your Time

For Joanna, my future sister-in-law, who just left to study abroad for 5 months in Buenos Aires.

I’ve been getting nostalgic this week, as we got ready to see Mike’s 21-year-old sister off to study abroad in Buenos Aires for 5 months. I’ve been racking my brain for study abroad tips I can give and as a byproduct, reliving my own golden experience back in London in 2006.

Studying abroad was one of the best decisions I could have made. Before I got on that flight to London I’d never really been out on my own before without the safety net of my parents or a boyfriend. I remember shaking as I got on the plane, absolutely terrified of what lay in store for me.

Once I arrived though, things took an immediate turn for the amazing. I made friends, I met interesting people, I stayed out late flirting with boys and making questionable decisions. I read old Victorian novels in old Victorian parks, took weekend trips to other countries and unearthed a passion for exploration and travel. I explored the city and fell deeply in love with London, still my favorite place on earth. I came home a different person than I’d left: more confident, more adventurous and (maybe) a little wiser.

So here’s my veteran study abroad tips for students headed abroad to get the most of their experience.

Study Abroad Tips - Expect An Emotional Roller Coaster

Expect an Emotional Roller Coaster Ride

There’s something about studying abroad that really intensifies feelings and experiences. Which is tough because the things you’re dealing with are big already: leaving home, being alone, being independent, missing friends and family, self-exploration and discovery.

You will be scared sometimes and you will be lonely. You will also be incredibly, unexplainably happy and fascinated and joyful. Own all of those experiences, they are a part of this process of growth. There’s a certain skill to being scared and doing something anyways. Know that even the darkest moods pass eventually.

 Study Abroad Tips - Don't Expect to Find All the Answers

Don’t Expect to Find the Answers

A lot of people go abroad thinking that the experience will bring clarity to their life. In particular, college students expect time away from home will help them sort out their careers or their relationships. As a college senior I thought that going abroad would help me figure out what I should do career-wise. But when I came home in January I found myself just as adrift as ever.

That’s not to say that distance doesn’t bring some insight, but it’s a long term process and it can’t be rushed. Sometimes the things you learn won’t be apparent for months or even years, but it all does contribute towards shaping your decisions.

In an indirect way studying abroad DID help me decide what my next steps were. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do career-wise but I did fall head over heels in love with London, so when graduation time came around I decided to move back. In a s, nse my study abroad trip did lead to me becoming a life long traveler and writer, but it was a long and winding path and I certainly didn’t see it back in 2006.

Study Abroad Tips - Wander and Explore

Wander and Explore

First thing you will do when you arrive is go out to all the popular tourist attractions you’ve been waiting so long to see, as well you should. Once you’ve done all of the big-ticket guidebook items don’t stop there.

Spend entire afternoons wandering the city, finding neat stores and local coffee shops, secret parks and weird landmarks. This is your privilege as a temporary local. Take lots of pictures. When you look back on your time in this foreign city it’s the offbeat, local and secret places you will remember, not the blockbuster attractions everyone else gets to do.

Study Abroad Tips - Watch Out for The Local Boys

Watch out for Local Boys

Or any boys really. As I mentioned above, studying abroad somehow intensifies every emotion and sometimes that leads to really stupid decision making. Before you know it you’re on a train to Scotland to see a boy you barely even know.

Sometimes it’s fun, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Remember yourself though: don’t get swept away in the romance of a foreign country and make decisions you wouldn’t otherwise.

Study Abroad Tips - Break Out of The Study Abroad Bubble

Break out of the “study abroad bubble”

You know how to recognize study abroad students? They are surrounded by a big group of OTHER study abroad students. It’s so much easier to befriend other study abroad students because they understand your situation, understand your culture and well, speak your language. I fell in this hole big time: when I went back to London to live I didn’t know a single person, all of my friends had been other US college students. I really regret not making more of an effort to branch out.

So enjoy your study abroad friends but reach out to local students too. If you can get involved in a club, go to mixers, dinner parties and other events arranged by the school or reach out to the local CouchSurfing chapter. Make local friends and you will always have somebody to visit when you go back.

Study Abroad Tips - Miss Home but Don't Dwell

Miss Home but Don’t Dwell

I was single when I studied in London, but my good friend left her boyfriend in the states and spent the entire four months missing him absolutely miserably. Instead of going out and enjoying London, she would stay inside Skyping and crying. I felt for her but I also thought, man what a missed opportunity.

You will miss home: your boyfriend, your friend’s, your mom, your cat, whatever. That’s okay, that’s normal. But please, don’t let your feelings become a black hole that sucks up your valuable time abroad. Get outside, make new friends, live the life you’re currently in, not the one you’re missing.

Study Abroad Tips - Go To Class Once in a While

Do Go To Class Once in Awhile

I know it’s super tempting not too when you’ve got this whole new place at your disposal! You did come here to learn something though right? Take advantage of your classes.

Study Abroad Tips - Enjoy! Enjoy

Studying abroad is a unique and special opportunity. There’s nothing quite like it once you emerge from college and actually have to like, work for a living. Enjoy your time because it will definitely go fast!

 

Want to Learn More About What it is Like to Study Abroad?  See More Study Abroad Tips and Advice Here!

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Study Abroad Tips: How to Make the Most of Your Time

 

Article by

Stephanie Yoder is a girl who can't sit still! She is the co-founder and editor of Why Wait To See the World. Learn more about her here.
  1. What a nice idea for a post! Really nice of you to share your wisdom with Joanna and all the other study abroaders about to depart.

    I’d like to add another thing — be very careful of drinking and partying. As a bunch of 20- and 21-year-olds in Florence without a drinking age, our drinking was OUT OF CONTROL several nights a week. And there were a lot of bars that catered to binge drinking students, with all-you-can-drink specials. Some of these places smelled like vomit 24/7. And this happens in quite a few cities.

    It can be easy to get swept up into the constant partying, especially in a party-happy city like BsAs. Have a GREAT time, the ABSOLUTE BEST time…just be very, very careful. 🙂

  2. Michelle says:

    This post brought me back to my study abroad experience in a big way and I loved it! I think I would add that one shouldn’t feel pressured to do EVERY single tourist experience while abroad. If tourist traps stress you out, there’s no need to hit up every one just because all of your friends do.

    My favorite experiences (as you iterated) fell far outside of the must-sees. I wouldn’t have it any other way!

  3. Aww this is a really nice post to everybody thinking of studying abroad! My school had the previous years of exchange students come to the University to talk to all the students getting ready to leave to the same country. When I returned, I went to this seminar to spread my knowledge of Thailand and all its wonderful (and not so wonderful) qualities and how to make the most of their time there. All those little details, the ins and outs. I hope I passed along some hard earned wisdom! This post is great to all people going away!

  4. Too true on all accounts! Really, it’s true for all living abroad, but especially when it’s your first time. Definitely memorable!

  5. Definitely get to know locals as much as you can, especially if you’re headed somewhere with a new-to-you language. My Spanish after 5 months in Chile living with a host family and dating a Chilean was FAR better than the language skills of friends who spent the same amount of time hanging out exclusively with other study abroad students.

  6. Thanks for writing this! One of my biggest criteria for choosing a college is finding one that has an excellent study abroad program. Luckily, most of the colleges I’m interested in do and many colleges actually REQUIRE at least a semester of study abroad for my major (International Relations) so I will definitely be studying abroad at some point in my college career – I can’t imagine going to a foreign country and not even trying to meet the locals or explore beyond the tourist traps. I’ll definitely keep this advice in mind when I finally get to go somewhere! 🙂

  7. I’ve never studied abroad, but these sound like great tips. One of my best friends is finally going to study abroad in Brazil… like she has always wanted to and I can’t even begin to explain how happy I am for her. I had to share this with her.

  8. I love the line “there’s a certain skill in being scared and doing something anyways.” That pretty much sums up life abroad for me, whether it’s as a student or an expat (I’ve been both). Great tips!

  9. I am so happy to find this at this point.. I am leaving my hometown for higher studies and is very nervous and a bit sacred too.. but reading this really helped me, loved how you touched upon every aspect of life of a studying abroad student. I am surely gonna take your advice seriously and may print it and paste it in my new room 🙂

  10. I miss studying abroad, and I wish I could do it again if I didn’t graduate already! My tips are:

    1. Try couch surfing – I had an amazing experience with the people we couch surfed with. It’s the fastest way to find local’s favorite places to eat and drink. You can read about the culture all you want, but nothing seems more truthful than hearing it from a local.

    2. Most important thing I learned is an advice from a boyfriend I left in the states. “Buy and do every thing you want there. Money can be made up, but experiences can’t.” I snowboarded the Swiss alps, threw tomatoes at La Tomatina, and drank at Oktoberfest. I had a few bills to pay when I came back to the US, but I will never forget those experiences!

    Don’t you wish you could go back and study abroad again?

  11. Great post – I recently wrote one on studying abroad as well. Although I didn’t stay out late flirting with boys – I can definitely relate to (and recommend) getting out of the study abroad circle. It’s a shame how many people go abroad only to stay in their own social group while they’re there.

    • I totally agree! I abandoned the Brit-clique whilst I studied abroad in the US and it was amazing to be immersed in the true American college culture instead 🙂 I guess it is really easy to cling to familiarity when you’re living abroad.

  12. I’ll also be studying abroad in Buenos Aires! My program starts on July 21st, but I’ll arrive on the 18th. You gave great advice. Especially when it comes to getting trapped in the study abroad bubble. I’ve met quite a few Argentines already (through websites like couch surfing) so my advice to anyone going abroad–even though I have yet to go abroad myself–would be to meet some locals online before your departure date! It’s nice knowing that I already have a small network of friends awaiting me and it should prove to be a great way to immerse myself into the culture from Day 1!

    Can’t wait (:

  13. Andrea Briseno says:

    HI 🙂 I really liked this post. It got me excited to study abroad in London even more so then I already was. I really want to study abroad, but the only thing that is holding me back from actually studying abroad and having this awesome experience are financial issues. And I really don’t want that to be the only factor holding me back from having this wonderful experience.

    At the moment I’m going to school here in the US (I’m entering my second year). Currently I am not getting any financial aid and I can BARELY pay tuition. My family is on a really tight budget, my parents are the ones that pay for my schooling, and I’m living at home; so I don’t pay for room and board and all those other added expenses, which would be a bigger expense for us.

    I was just wondering if there were any tips that any one has on making this experience a lot more affordable for my parents and me? Has anyone had this issue and studied abroad, how did yiou deal with it? Just let me know by commenting back or emailing me at cheeselikepigs@yahoo.com (I know it’s weird, I made it when I was 12). I’m sorry for this really LONG comment.

  14. Reading this entry reminds of the time when I went on a student exchange to London during my college days. I was filled with so much excitment that I thought I would burst! Made tons of friends there and yes i stayed away from all the other study aboard students. lol. I didn’t manage to get proper accomodation for the first week or so though and ended up staying in a apartment hotel (Fraser Residence Prince of Wales, i know even the name is cool!) ALONE while the uni sorted something out for me. On the bright side, i had plenty of space to myself as compared to the dorm room i got later on. Totally relate to the “Miss Home but Don’t Dwell”!! I loved my study abroad experience and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world! How I wish i could re-visit those days. 🙁

  15. Loved this! I studied abroad at the University of Miami (I’m from Scotland) and it was really the most unique way to experience the way of life, escape my comfort zone and get a true understanding of what it means to be a local! It was such a wise decision, and I’ll never forget those long days of sunbathing on the beach, when I really should have been in class. Yay, study abroads!

  16. This post is perfect. I would say the exact same things! I studied in London as well and it was six of the best months of my life that really opened my eyes to what the world and traveling has to offer. I think your best advice is to get out of the bubble. I didn’t make many English friends there, because I was surrounded and in a program with Americans. I do regret not reaching out a bit more. Amazing experience though. I think it should be a requirement in unis today.

  17. It’s 2am and I was lying in bed having a small panic attack about moving from Scotland to Australia in a few weeks for my study abroad year. I googled ‘nervous’ and ‘study abroad’ and this post popped up. Thank god it did! Now I feel a lot calmer and even excited about my year abroad. Thank you for sharing your experience, I hope mine is just as great!

  18. Hi there, so happy to have came across this blogs…. really great tips! I’ll be studying abroad fall coming, Central America, and can not wait. I recently uploaded a video on youtube about some of tips before going abroad if anyone would like to check it out.

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