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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!