When you’re preparing to study abroad for the first time things can get a little intense.
Just knowing that you’re going to be in another country for any number of weeks is both a thrill and, often, the sort of thing that can turn your stomach into knots.
How can you make sure that your trip is everything you dreamed it would be? Well, following these 7 steps should help.
1. Get Your Priorities Straight
When you go to your host country it’s important to keep in mind the fact that you aren’t actually going on an all-expenses-paid vacation (Thanks, financial aid, and scholarships!). Whether you’ll be taking on an academic internship or taking classes, school is school no matter where in the world you go. This means that you need to plan your site-seeing and extended traveling around your schedule. Sometimes, this can be hard to do—you may not have your classes finalized until arrival, or any other number of things can seem to get in the way, but preparing yourself ahead of time can absolutely help get rid of some of the stress.
2. Do Your Research
It’s time to break out those travel guides and the atlases (or, okay, at least Google Maps). Where are you staying? Is it in the middle of a bustling city, or is it nested outside in some cozy suburbs? Just how easy is it to get around? How is their public transit? Do they even do Uber? How close are you to other hot spots and places on your to-do list? An afternoon trip close or a weekend getaway close? These are the question you’ll want to answer for yourself before you get there. A lot of the time there are student discounts on things like public transit, and you can find crazy cheap deals to take a quick flight another incredible place and even find the perfect AirBnB or hostel if you plan ahead!
3. Get The Inside Scoop
If your school doesn’t already try and pair up current students with previous study-abroaders, reach out to your local Study Abroad Office. Often times, there will be peer advisors who have studied abroad, or, at the very least, a counselor who can help you prepare for any questions you might have left before you leave. Often there are also Facebook groups for incoming students at your upcoming host school-it doesn’t hurt to reach out to someone who was part of the previous group and see if there’s anything you should know ahead of time!
4. Get Involved At Your Host School
Once you arrive, it can be easy to gravitate towards other people from your home country (you’ll be surprised at how patriotic you’ll become when you’re away from it all), which is definitely not a bad thing (see Step 6) but don’t let it replace your desire to get involved at your new campus. Here’s your chance to be a freshman all over again, start over and do something new! Or, if you like, find a sister club to the one you’re hyper-involved with back at home. Join that creative writing club, try out for that school play, try that sport you’ve never even heard of until five minutes ago…not only will you enrich your own personal experience, but you’ll be sure to make some friends, too.
5. Get Some Culture Under Your Belt
Go to museums, see those ruins, try that food you’ve never tried before…now’s the time to soak up as much of your host country’s culture as you can. Absorbing the history and the flavor of your study abroad experience will help it feel like so much more than just another university town. Talk to your friends and classmates, figure out which spaces are the places that tourists love the most, and which are the hidden treasures, the must-see places that the locals love- and then, do both. There’s no shame in being a tourist, chances are they’d do the same thing in your country if they visited, too!
6. Find Your Home Away From Home
Another part of knowing this isn’t all just one extended vacation is knowing that eventually, the shine is going to wear off. At some point, whether it’s when you’re jetlagged and cranky, or when the fact that you’re in Japan and you have to take stats kicks in, life can get overwhelming. Especially when it’s your first time away from your friends and family. Are you away from home during a birthday or holiday? This can be difficult, especially when you don’t really know anyone yet, or when your host country doesn’t celebrate your country’s independence day or any other tradition you normally hold…but that’s okay. Host a party yourself, at your dorm or a nearby restaurant or cafe…chances are the other study-abroaders will appreciate it, and your new friends from your host country might, as well!
7. Remember: This Isn’t Your Only Chance
Major key. The truth is, you won’t be able to see all of the continent (or even the country) you’re visiting in one trip. If you let this get to you, it can be devastating…but it doesn’t have to be! So, you prioritized seeing the Eiffel Tower and doing the Louvre this trip, you’ll get to the seaside eventually. Know your Must-Sees, and relax and enjoy the journey for what it is. Rome wasn’t built in a day, you won’t get to see all of Italy in a semester, and that’s fine. Just another reason to come back.
What are you most excited about when it comes to having the chance to study abroad? Let us know what you look most forward to doing when you study abroad in the comments down below!
Featured Image Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/Y6tBl0pTe-g
Lauren West graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in English and Digitial Journalism in December 2018. She is a Southern California native, an INFP with anxiety, and at any moment trying her best.