Studying abroad truly is a learning experience in and of itself, which is why recently returned students always seem to be enthusiastic about sharing advice to those still making plans. As someone who wished I had heard some of this firsthand advice before I studied abroad, I can say that talking to others who have had this experience is highly recommended to make the trip as smooth as possible.
Of course, no matter how prepared you are, there will always be something new to learn and experience. However, the following three tips can make your study abroad experience a bit less of a shock.
1. Immerse Yourself in the Culture
Traveling abroad is scary and intimidating, and socializing with non-Americans can definitely put you a little outside your comfort zone—especially if there’s a language barrier. However, it’s extremely important to get as much out of your experience as possible by immersing yourself in the culture. This means socializing with more than just your American study abroad group and doing more than just the touristy clichés like museums and restaurants.
Take some time to explore some of the hidden mysteries that can’t be found in every travel brochure. Learn the language, try out some of the local fashion trends, attend religious services and participate in cultural activities. Whatever you do, make this travel experience an active one because you’ll be back home before you know it.
2. Think Beyond Western Europe
Don’t get me wrong: Europe is a great continent for your first study abroad experience, but make sure you don’t choose a safer options because you’re intimidated by a culture vastly different from your own. Although France, Spain, the U.K. and Italy might be popular options among your peers, you can have a more exotic, life-changing experience by traveling to a country you don’t know much about already.
Try visiting an area you know very little about and that’s dramatically different from the one you’re used to. For example, consider traveling to China, India, Turkey, Argentina, Ghana or Egypt. You’ll find that you learn a lot more about politics, culture, tradition and people in general when you choose a destination that looks nothing like home.
3. Start Preparing Early
The idea of picking up and leaving home on a moment’s notice is certainly romantic, but that liberating feeling tends to be pretty short-lived when you find yourself having to pay expensive currency exchange fees or being stuck at the airport for days because your passport expired. Well before you go, make sure you have all your ducks in a row. Get your passport renewed now even if you think you’ll have plenty of time.
Find out if you’ll need a visa, proof of vaccines or other important documents before starting your trip. Purchase a study abroad insurance policy to keep yourself covered in case of a medical emergency overseas. Make sure you pay any lingering bills, have someone cover the rent while you’re gone and talk to the study abroad advisors at your school often to be extra sure that all details and to-dos are checked off the list.
The prospect of studying abroad can seem overwhelming, but the excitement of this adventure can make planning less of a burden. I wish I would have had these three tips before I left, so learn from my experience and above all else: have a good time!
This is a guest post by Cassandra Lynne who is an avid traveler and adventure seeker. While she was in college, she studied abroad in Blois, France, during her senior year. She knows the importance of properly preparing yourself for your international studies by having your passport, purchasing a travel insurance policy and properly packing for the climate of your temporary home country.
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