Being able to study abroad is an amazing experience. Oftentimes it can be easy to lose track of how priceless the opportunity is and not make the most of it. Whether it be spending too much time in your room doing things you could be doing at home, letting yourself get too homesick, or not meeting new people, there are a number of common mistakes that many students can make while studying abroad.
In order to optimise your study abroad experience, these are our 10 brutally honest study abroad tips that you need to hear.
1. Don’t Just Stick With the Study Abroad Kids
Though it’s understandable to be nervous meeting new people, a study abroad may be the only time in your life you’re living in a different country, so it’s crucial to make the most of it by meeting new people, whether that be local students of the country where you’re abroad or new friends in shared hostels on your weekend travels.
Getting to know the locals, especially locals that are similar in age to you, is a perfect opportunity to learn more about that country’s culture, and they can also give you recommendations about the town and country as well as helping you practise that country’s native language.
2. Forget the Ways of Your Hometown
A lot of foreigners, Americans in particular, can have a tendency to compare everything they see while abroad to the ways of their hometown, often leading them to view a country’s different culture in a negative light and get homesick for their familiar native lifestyle.
However, doing this not only results in you not appreciating different cultures and experiences on your study abroad, but it’s also a toxic mindset for your daily life to always be yearning for more of the same, not to mention you’ll seem like a drag to other study abroad students.
On your study abroad, try to de-Americanise (or de-[insert your nationality]) as much as you can and work on adapting. So what they drink milk out of bags, or use s’s in spelling instead of z’s, or pronounce things a bit differently? Remember that as weird as it may be, it’s ultimately an educational cultural experience, so be appreciative.
3 Get Off Netflix and Skype
This is one of the most common habits by study abroad students: Whether it’s because they’re feeling homesick or just lazy, students spend way too much time watching American Netflix shows on a VPN alone in their room, or skyping family and friends from home when they could be meeting new friends out while travelling.
You’re only abroad for a limited amount of time, and you don’t want to look back regretting that you didn’t get out and socialise, travel, or sight see more often. Your loved ones will be there when you return home, along with Netflix, so do yourself a favour and get off your computer while you’re still abroad!
4. Travel As Much As Possible
Especially if you’re doing a study abroad in Europe, which is common for most students, you’ll likely never be living in this city and country again in your life, so take advantage of your temporary foreign home and travel as much as you can. Whether you’re taking a day trip that’s an hour away from your home base, or you’re using weekends to travel to different countries, see as much of the world as you can while you’re there.
For European travel, I would recommend purchasing a railcard while you’re abroad as well as utilising flight booking sites like Kayak, Ryanair, and Easyjet and accommodation booking sites including Airbnb and Hostelworld. It’s also beneficial to make friends with locals who have cars and do some road trips with them on the weekends, especially if you’re studying abroad somewhere like America, Canada, New Zealand, or Australia.
5. Save LOTS of Money
This is something most people try not to acknowledge, but studying abroad is expensive. Sure you may have your accommodation, visas, and schooling already paid for before you go, but things like food, alcohol, travel, and unexpected expenses will creep up on you, and the one thing you don’t want to be while abroad is broke.
Study abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime sort of experience, and you don’t want to be regretting not saving enough money when you’re there and being limited by the amount of travel you can do or nights out you can go on with friends. Be as financially prepared as you can before you study abroad, and definitely save about double of what you think you’ll need.
6. Pack Light
Let me say this loud and clear: you do not need to bring as much as you think. A common mistake for most study abroad students is overpacking, meaning you won’t have any room in your suitcase to shop at foreign stores or buy souvenirs for family or friends.
Plus, if you don’t pack light for weekend trips, you’ll be hit with outrageous fees on budget airlines and be stuck carrying your heavy backpack or suitcase around with you on trains, planes, and buses.
For study abroad, you are better off under-packing than over-packing, so pack what you think you need and then leave out 1/4 of it.
7. Say Yes to Everything
I know many of these tips have revolved around the idea of “no regrets,” but it’s so important on a study abroad because you will regret it if you don’t live it out to the fullest. This also goes with experiences and saying yes to just about everything. Of course, don’t do anything that makes you too uncomfortable, but if you’re hesitant about trying a popular native dish, venturing to an unknown city, or going out when you’d rather call it an early night, just do it and say yes!
There’s a strong chance you’ll be glad you tried something new and a bit out of your comfort zone, rather than letting your fear hold you back from what could’ve been an unforgettable experience.
8. Abandon Your Normal Routine
While studying abroad, many students (especially girls, but guys too!) can get so caught up in their normal routine that they let it lose perspective of what’s important. You may not be able to refill your makeup products abroad, or do your hair every morning, or workout as much as you’d want to, and that’s okay!
If you gain some weight, aren’t as glam as you usually are, or don’t call home as much as you thought you’d would, it’s not the end of the world. Also, it’s important to remember that you are living in a different country for some time, so your lifestyle is going to naturally change with a different way of life.
9. If You’re American, Switch to a Network With Free Data Abroad
One of the best decisions I could have made before going abroad was switching from AT&T to Sprint. Though the service isn’t as great, it provides unlimited data and text anywhere in the world at no additional cost, meaning I never had to get a different SIM card or phone number, and I didn’t run into any extra fees.
If you’re able to, switch to a phone provider that offers something along these lines and avoid all the hassle and fees of sticking it out with your preferred network and buying a SIM card.
10. Conquer Your Fear of Hostels
Though hostels seem scary to first timers, they are generally safer, more clean, and friendlier than you would’ve guessed, and it’s so worth it for your budget to stay in hostels instead of searching the web for budget hotels. While Airbnbs are often the same price if you have a larger group, hostels are usually more cost-efficient if you’re travelling solo or with a small group.
Hostels are also way less scary if you’re with a group of friends because you can sleep near them and all socialise with other guests together. Plus, depending on the size of your group, you may be able to all get a room in a hostel together and not have to share with strangers.