Studying abroad was the best decision I have ever made! It can be exciting, but also overwhelming. Make the most of your short time in a foreign country with these 5 tips.
1. Join a club or activity
Better yet, join a new club or activity: something you have never done before. You will likely already be outside of your comfort zone when you enter a new country; why not stretch yourself a tiny bit more? When I studied abroad, I signed up for cheerleading. CHEERLEADING! I had zero experience in this. Sure, it was slightly embarrassing when in the pre-practice stretching everyone dropped effortlessly into the splits and I remained standing nearly fully straight up (that is my splits!), but I knew I was only there for a few months so … what the heck, why not?! If you embarrass yourself, it won’t be for long!
Joining a new group is the easiest way to make friends. Most clubs or groups have SOCIALS! There will be built-in opportunities for bonding with your teammates, fun nights out, and even themed parties that may or may not involve ridiculous costumes.
If none of that has convinced you, you will also have great stories to tell when you return home and top-notch Instagram material. A boomerang of you being tossed in the air screaming ‘go team!’ or a picture of you rock climbing will totally surprise and impress all those untravelled friends back-home.
2. Make friends with the locals
What a better way to get to know a new place than to know the people who have lived there forever?
Locals will know all the best bars, restaurants, hikes, you name it! They can show you what life is really like in their country, rather than just how it appears to tourists. If you are ever given the opportunity to meet a local classmates family and see their home, I highly recommend you say yes! To see how people live in a foreign country is incredibly interesting. Having met my (now) husband while studying abroad, I was able to get to know England in a way that many of my American friends missed out on. I saw a local farm (my husband’s family’s), went to some local events (small beer festivals and farm shows and parties, for example), and was able to see the mountains and countryside beyond where the touristy busses went.
In addition to making your time abroad more authentic and meaningful, you can create lifelong friends to visit abroad or travel buddies for the years to come. How great would it be to know that anytime you want to visit Australia, you have a place to stay?!
The locals will also have the best accents. Need I say more?
3. Meet other study abroad students
Studying abroad can be scary. You might not know anyone, you won’t know how to get around, the culture will be different in both big and small ways, and for that matter, you might not even speak the same language as the people around you!
Making friends with people who are in the same boat as you will offer you a great deal of relief. When I studied abroad, my college offered a summer program for international students that started a few weeks before the other students arrived. If your school offers something similar, I would highly recommend it! Turns out that all but two of these ‘international students’ were American on my program. However, it was an amazing way to make friends who were also unsure and nervous about this new experience. We leaned on each other and bonded over the fact that we were CLUELESS in this new world. No really, we could not understand the local accent for a good 3 weeks upon arrival! It resulted in a lot of exchanged confused looks and so. much. laughter. Plus, nothing will cure your homesickness like being able to reminisce on the food and cultural aspects (but mostly food) you miss.
We travelled together, reached out to meet the Brits together, and I have created some lifelong friendships with people from all over my own country.
4. Travel, travel, TRAVEL
See as much as you can!
Especially if you are someplace like Europe, where flights are cheap, hostels are everywhere, and other cultures and countries are right next door.
I loved my school in England and the friends I made there, so for me, the hard part was finding the right balance of wanting to travel EVERYWHERE and wanting to experience ‘uni-life’ (as the Brits call it) in England. I compromised by taking long weekend trips about once or twice a month and spending the remaining weekends at my school and exploring England with my new friends. That being said, British college kids go out on WEEKNIGHTS like all. the. time. In fact, Wednesday night was student night at all the bars and clubs! So I wasn’t missing out too much by leaving for a weekend.
I tried to schedule my class timetable in a way that allowed to me to occasionally skip out on a Friday or a Monday (or both.. hehe, sorry Dad!), and so I could take a few 3-4 day trips to new places! Now, I am not encouraging you to skip classes and ignore the study part of your study abroad program, but, BIG PICTURE: being in Europe could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for some people, so make the most of it!
I travelled to the nearest countries by plane or train. For example, I took the train up to Edinburgh, Scotland just for a day. You can see a lot in a day when you are determined and keen!
How did I decide which countries to explore when there were so many options I hear you ask?! Well, my friend, I let my (very depleted) bank account be the judge of that! I highly recommend using the website SKYSCANNER to book all of your flights as it has never let me down in finding the cheapest flights. There is also this amazing feature that lets you select “everywhere” as you destination. You simply enter your dates, your departure location, select ‘everywhere’ as your destination and wah-lah: a list of destinations in order of CHEAPEST to most expensive. A true God-send. While I did travel a lot of the nearest countries (Ireland and Scotland), I also got to travel to Spain, Amsterdam, Belgium, Greece, and France. Whew, tiny brag there, but how impressive is that!? Eight countries in 4 months all together!
I would also recommend planning in time for a longer trip if you are able! Between my school’s summer program for international students and the start of the regular semester, I had nearly 2 weeks off! This is when I did my longer and most in-depth travelling with some awesome American girls I met just weeks earlier.
But, most of all, do NOT forget to explore the country you came to in the first place! Walk around, go for a hike, wander the path less travelled, visit all the touristy spots, admire the architecture, ask the locals for recommendations, try out each. and. every. pub.! This is the place you will get to know best and it can really become a second home to you if you let it!
5. Take SO MANY pictures
Trust me. You will not regret any of the pictures you take. You will look back at them forever and you will want to show EVERYONE the awesome things you saw and experienced.
Take pictures of the iconic sights, the instagram-worthy plates of food, the spectacular views in nature, the architecture, but also, take so SO many pictures of you with your new friends and you experiencing new things. While I love showing my friends and family back home pictures of me in front of the Eiffel Tower and pictures of the delicious and exotic Greek foods I ate, I look back most fondly on the pictures of me and my friends. Poorly timed jumping photos of us in front of a castle. A hilarious picture of us in a student night club capturing our faces after taking a shot with hot sauce in it (I do NOT recommend this). An embarrassing photo of us with messy hair, massive bags under our eyes, and cheesy fries in hand after travelling all night. These are the masterpieces I cherish the most!
Also, this is literally your time to shine.
Your Instagram will NEVER be this cool again so go to town, sister!