Pre-departure tips for an epic adventure
Are you planning to study abroad? Being immersed in an entirely new culture is not only a life-changing experience, but could very well become the most exciting and rewarding semester of your college experience!
Aside from being the optimal way to learn a foreign language, studying abroad helps develop skills that a classroom cannot provide, forcing you to take risks and become more independent. As your explore foreign places and cultures and see breathtaking sights, you will expand your worldview, make friends around the world, learn more about yourself, discover new strengths, push your own boundaries and, of course, enhance your resume and future career opportunities.
Before you embark on this trip of a lifetime, be sure to check out our 10 great tips to help you make the most of your semester, year or summer abroad:
1. Break out of your comfort zone
Say yes to new opportunities! This is your chance to try lots of things you may not typically encounter (and this is often how the best stories are made!) Push yourself to find activities that allow you to learn more about the culture of your city (sangria-making, anyone?), and be sure to hang out and explore with people who aren't from your home country - make friends from all over the world!
Push your palette's boundaries! Taste a new cuisine in its birthplace (such as spätzle in Germany, pizza in Naples, paella in Valencia, pasteis de nata in Lisbon, phở in Vietnam, weiner schnitzel in Austria, moules-frites in Belgium, bulgogi in South Korea, umpa in South India, purim in Brazil, squeaky cheese in Finland, spanakopita in Greece, goulash in Hungary, ramen in Japan, b'stilla in Morocco and steak and kidney pie in England).
2. Connect with alumni
See what past alumni of your study abroad program have to say about the city, culture, program, support and resources, day trip recommendations, must-try foods and more. Reach out through your school's program and read reviews or travel blogs written by former students who have helpful insights to share.
During your trip, make sure to take notes on your adventures so you can help future students learn from your amazing experience abroad!
3. Set up a budget
Figure out what you'll need to buy in your new country before arriving (e.g., sheets, cooking supplies, train tickets), and plan for it in your budget. Setting a weekly budget is a great idea. Given the change in currency, spending in a foreign country can easily get out of hand. Be smart about spending and set a realistic budget for yourself. (And stick to it!)
Make sure to inquire about student discounts - restaurants, museums, movies, sightseeing adventures and more. There are endless opportunities to flash your college ID and save tons of cash, so carry it with you at all times or get an International Student ID card (ISIC) for student discounts around the world.
Be sure to notify your banks that you're leaving. Get extra credit or debit cards and store them in different places so that if you lose one, you'll still have a back up.
4. Do your homework
Read up on the local culture, customs and current events of your host country. Learn about the important museums, sites and landmarks in your destination before you go. Are there any major festivals happening while you will be there? What's the city famous for? (Lace in Brussels, mosaic in Barcelona, Murano blown glass in Venice or leather in Florence) Check guidebooks or go online and research places you want to visit. Make reservations before you arrive if required.
Check the weather ahead of time for the months you will be visiting your host country so you can choose what you really need (and avoid unnecessary excess luggage). This will help you pack wisely and efficiently, even for weekend trips. Rule of thumb: Take as little as possible (but still have everything you need).
Download apps that will help you while you travel - Viber, Skype, WhatsApp to communicate with people around the world for free; Trip Lingo or Google Translate to learn important phrases in foreign languages; Mint, Moneywise or XE currency converter to help track spending; and local apps to access train schedules, tickets and more.
5. Make friends
Clubs and societies are a fantastic way to make new friends and enjoy time between classes. Try something completely new or explore a favorite sport or other activity from a new perspective! Participating in student organizations connects you with people from around the world who share your interests, providing you with many opportunities to learn, develop and interact with new connections. Getting involved also keeps you in the know about social, cultural and networking events that are happening around you.
Your study abroad classmates will hail from all over the world, so take advantage of this built-in opportunity to deepen your network of contacts. The friendships you create and the valuable life-skills you acquire while abroad will benefit you as you step into the working world. (Be sure to add your new involvements to your résumé!)
There’s an endless number of things to do and see as you explore exciting places in and around your host country! If you are all about the weekend excursions, you might want to look for a study abroad program that limits classes to four days a week. This way you can go out and explore on a 3-day weekend.
Try to plan side trips as soon as possible. It’s helpful to research a weekend destination city before you go so you can get a sense of where everything is, learn what kind of festivals and events are happening that you don’t want to miss, and how best to organize your time.
But don’t overbook yourself! You’ll want to leave plenty of time to immerse yourself in your home city and the local culture. After all, this is the true experience of studying abroad: living in a new city, speaking the language and getting to know your new friends!
7. Gain work experience
International work experience ensures you will stand out from other job candidates. Develop highly-desirable and unique professional skills, perspective and knowledge such as cross-cultural communication, global awareness, adaptability, problem-solving and language skills.
Look into internship possibilities that will allow you to explore future career options and apply classroom theory in a real-world setting. Some study abroad programs offer valuable opportunities for hands-on, experiential learning such as internships and service-based work. This is a wonderful way to gain work experience in a foreign country when paid work in your field of interest can be difficult to come by.
Do you have a particular issue or area about which you feel very passionate? Another enriching option you might consider is volunteering. Short-term volunteer opportunities can be a truly rewarding experience, offering you the chance to see your major field of study in a new light, learn from your surroundings and bolster your résumé.
Apply your skills and education by immersing yourself further into the culture of your host country through meaningful, hands-on learning. Volunteer roles are often available through research programs and organizations in need of your help, including charities, festivals, events and community groups.
9. Stay safe
Be smart. Travel safely. Stick together with a group or friend, and keep informed of local conditions, weather, culture and local laws of the places you're visiting. Have the contact info for your nearest Embassy handy, and keep an eye out for any travel warnings at the U.S. State Department's website.
To be on the safe side, make multiple copies of important travel documents like your passport and visas, and be sure to leave copies of your itinerary, passport data page and visas with family or friends at home so that they can be contacted in case of an emergency. That way, if anything happens, you can easily access your travel information.
Be prepared. Make sure you have insurance that will cover emergency medical needs while you are overseas. It's also a good idea to look up info for English-speaking hospitals or medical professionals for non-emergencies.
And in the conceivable event that you run out of WiFi, it's a good idea to learn how to read a map and navigate without electronics. (You never know when you might suddenly need this skill!)
10. Share your insights
Create a travel blog detailing your experience abroad, whether as a single blog, weekly posts, or even a dedicated Instagram. This is a great way to share your stories with friends and family, and (BONUS) your blog creates a valuable resource and inspiration for future study abroad students!
Not sure what to write? Reflect on your adventures and share your best photos. Keep regular notes and ask yourself what surprised you, what you learned, how activities were different from what would have happened back home. What were your favorite places to visit and foods to try? What recommendations and advice would you give to someone reading your blog?
As you look back on your experience, you’ll be amazed at how much you learned and how far you’ve come!
Enjoy your adventure! This could be the highlight of your college career!
Have you studied abroad during college or graduate school? What advice would you give to students about to embark on a new adventure in a foreign country? Be sure to share your insights in the comments below. We'd love to hear your ideas!
“There’s nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
— Nelson Mandela
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