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


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24 thoughts on “Study Abroad Tips: How to Get the Most out of Your Time”

  1. 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.

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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!

  5. 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. 🙁

  6. 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 (I know it’s weird, I made it when I was 12). I’m sorry for this really LONG comment.

  7. 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 (:

  8. 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.

    1. 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.

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