In my opinion, studying abroad is one of the best experiences you can have in life, both for travel and personal growth. My semester in Paris was by far the best three months of my life so far and I encourage everyone to study abroad if they can. I learned a lot while abroad, and I hope these tips for studying abroad can help to ease pre-departure jitters or convince some of you to buy a plane ticket 😊
1. Save Your Money Beforehand
It might sound obvious, but one of my biggest tips for studying abroad is to save money! Spending three months in another country can be expensive. Being a student makes things easier with all of the discounts you can get, but the temptation to spend money on food, travel and shopping is a lot stronger when you’re abroad. For good reason – everything is new, and you should of course be able to take part in it! If you’re anything like me, saying no to a sale is difficult, but I knew that I would much rather spend my money in Paris than in the suburbs over the summer. I didn’t want to have to say no to anything in Paris, and neither should you! One of my most valuable tips for studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience and you should be able to enjoy every second. During the whole summer before going abroad, I worked as much as possible and tried not to spend any money besides what was necessary. I knew that I would much rather skip out on a dinner in the suburbs so I could go shopping on the Champs Elysées in Paris.
2. Don’t Overpack
Again, this might sound obvious, but overpacking is one of the first mistakes you can make. Deciding what not to bring can definitely be difficult (especially if you’re like me and have a lot of “in case” articles of clothing), but one of my biggest tips for studying abroad is that it’s really not necessary to bring everything. I’m sure you’ll want to go shopping in your host country, and you’ll want to have lots of room in your suitcase for all your new stuff! Just bring the basics – a few pairs of jeans, a scarf or two, a few sweaters. Filling the gaps in your wardrobe with foreign clothes is a lot of fun J Using vacuum bags is very helpful too – they allow you to bring more clothes without having to get another suitcase. I had one big suitcase, a small carry-on, my backpack, and a small crossbody purse and I fit everything! If you’re checking two bags in addition to your carry-on, you’re probably bringing too much.
3. Don’t Have Too Many Expectations
Leading up to the day I left, I spent most of my free time researching Paris, reading blog posts by students who had gone through my program, and imagining what my life would be like once I got there. Doing this was definitely fun and helpful, but make sure that you don’t have any concrete expectations about your host country or your study abroad experience in general. No matter how much you prepare, your experience will never be what you expect (in a good way!), so prepare for the unexpected!
4. Be Open
Going along with my tip of expectations, it’s super important to be completely open to new things when you study abroad. Even if you’re a frequent traveler, spending three months in a country will be completely different than anything you’ve ever done. You will be exposed to new cultures, food, languages, beliefs, and so much more. If you go into your study abroad experience thinking that your way is the right way, then you won’t get very much out of the experience. Be open to trying the food, learning the language, and understanding the way that the people in your host country live. Learn something new every day, be spontaneous, and say yes!
5. Get To Know Your Host Country
You picked your host country for a reason – get to know it! One of my favorite parts and tips for studying abroad is that I got to learn about France’s history and culture firsthand instead of just glossing over the French Revolution in my high school World History classes. Every country has its own unique history, art, and culture in general and there’s no better time or place to learn about it then while you’re studying abroad.
6. Live Like A Local
This goes along with my previous tip, but act like a local! Don’t treat your study abroad experience like a vacation. For the first few weeks you’ll of course be a tourist and you should definitely do of all of the “typical” things in your host country, but since you’ll be there for at least a month you’ll start to feel at home. As the phrase goes…when in Rome, do as the Romans do! Get to know your host country as a home away from home. Take public transportation, go grocery shopping, find your favorite coffee shop. Finding the hidden quirks of your host country is so fun, and embracing the local culture instead of sticking to the touristy stuff leads to a more fulfilled experience.
7. Live in a Homestay
It’s not an option for all study abroad programs, but if your program offers a homestay option for housing, 100% DO IT. This is one of the best tips for studying abroad! I lived in an apartment with a French woman and her daughter, and it was one of the main reasons I had such an amazing experience in Paris. There is no better way to be immersed in the culture than living in a homestay. I became so much more proficient in French because I was constantly speaking it at home, I was introduced to traditional French food, and I experienced what it was like to live in a Parisian apartment (with a view of the Eiffel Tower, I might add). Living in a homestay can also help with homesickness, because you have the feeling of living at home. Your host family can give you a lot of advice about living in your host country. I still talk to my host mom and now I always have a place to stay when I go back!
8. Make an Effort to Learn the Language
Depending on where you study, many of the locals will probably speak English as a second language, but you should still try to learn the local language! I took a French class while in Paris, and even though I had about five years of French before going I learned so much more because I was able to keep practicing once class was over. Even if you’re not totally proficient, even attempting to speak the language will be good for you and will cause locals to not see you merely as a typical American tourist. This is one of the best tips for studying abroad!
9. Don’t Travel Every Weekend
One very exciting part about studying abroad is the ability to travel to new places outside your host country, especially if you’re in Europe. You should definitely take advantage of that, but not so much that you’re gone every weekend of the semester! Make sure to spend time in your host country, because you did choose to study there for a reason! I know some people who spent every weekend traveling and at the end of the semester felt that they didn’t experience their host country as well as they should have. I traveled every weekend in October but spent the entire month of November in Paris, and I’m super glad that I did!
10. Use Google Flights & Skyscanner
When you do travel, Google Flights and Skyscanner are great resources for comparing airfare prices. Once you pick a place to go, Google Flights has a calendar that shows the difference in ticket prices throughout the month. Skyscanner is also great especially if you don’t know where you want to go, because it will give a list of the cheapest places to go. Even if you don’t book your flights through these websites, they’re great for the initial research process.
11. Document Your Experience
Whether it’s through a journal, blog, travel vlogs, postcards, or just taking thousands of pictures, make sure to keep track of your time abroad! You’ll want to be able to relive it once you’re back home, and your family and friends will want to keep up with what you’re doing! I did all five – I loved writing my travel blog and making travel videos so I could remember the details of my experience that pictures didn’t always capture. Keeping a journal was nice for remembering the things I didn’t post online, like how I was feeling day to day as well as keeping all of my tickets, receipts, and paper souvenirs. I bought at least two of the same postcards at every new place I went, and sent one to someone back home and kept the second for myself. I now have them up on the wall in my room!
12. Buy A Sim Card
International phone plans can be expensive, and I found that the cheapest and easiest way was to buy a French Sim card for my phone. This is the method that my program recommended, and it was totally worth it. I paid 20€/month for unlimited talk, text, and 100GB of data which was great because the wifi in my apartment was not the best. I had a French number, but all of my phone’s information was still there and I could still text people back home.
13. Become Close With The People In Your Program
The friendships I made while studying abroad are some of the best I’ve ever had. Even though I’ve known them for a much shorter time than my friends back home, I have a much different relationship with them because we lived in a different country together. The people you meet abroad are the ones you will travel with, practice your new language with, and share all of your new experiences with. Even if your friends back home have studied abroad, they will not be able to fully understand your experience like the people from your program will. Now I have friends all over the country and an excuse to travel to see them!
14. Take Advantage Of Every Second
At your home university, it’s easy to spend the entire weekend binge watching Netflix and not leaving your bed, but when you’re abroad that should never be the case! When you’re not in class, you should be exploring! You only have a few months in your host country and you should experience as much as you can while you’re there. On the weekends I tried to leave my apartment by 10:00 so I made sure that I was getting a full day of exploring. your days with activities – even if you only have a few hours free, spend them people watching at a café or strolling down a street that you’ve never been down before. Take advantage of everything – you can sleep when you’re back home 😜
15. Get Excited!
You’re about to embark on an experience that may not be topped by anything else. Studying abroad is an amazing experience that is unique for every single person. You get out of it what you put in, so get ready! Always keep a positive attitude, even if a flight gets canceled or you feel completely lost with the language. Always remember that one of the biggest tips for studying abroad is to be flexible! If not, you might as well stay at home!
Do you think these tips for studying abroad help you? Let us know in the comment section below!
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Allison is a junior at Loyola University Chicago studying Marketing and International Business. She loves to shop (especially for sweaters), read, travel, burn candles, take bubble baths, explore new places, and watch Netflix.