Studying abroad is amazing and I would honestly recommend it to anyone. It changes your life in ways you couldn’t ever imagine. However, that also means there are some things you should keep in mind for your study abroad trip. While traveling to far off lands for months at a time is an experience to be treasured, it is also an experience you should be approaching in a smart manner. Not to say it is a dangerous experience, but it is up to you to determine how that experience goes and that can involve a lot of responsibility. The following advice comes from both personal experiences and the many stories I have gathered from friends. I hope that the following list will help in your travels!
Photo by Bobbie LaRocque, who studied abroad in Australia
1. Don’t forget before you travel, to wipe your mind clean
While studying abroad I have come across a few fellow internationals who came with expectations. They had expectations about how the native people would be, what the environment would look like and even that things would automatically be fun because it was new. You want to try to avoid this, if possible. Because these friends had their mind filled with expectations, it was a huge letdown when they saw the real deal. It may be scary trying not to imagine the place you will be studying at for a part of your life but if you don’t expect, that place will be even more beautiful than your mind could have ever thought.
2. Don’t leave problems behind
It may seem like you are temporarily putting your life on hold when you leave home for months at a time. It may feel like when you return you will be picking up your life right where you left it, so issues can be left for after you have fun abroad. It may seem okay at the time but, while you are gone (especially because you are gone) the people in your life continue to face the problems without you. When you come back home the problems might much worse than when you left. Make sure your life is in order before moving to another country!
3. Don’t forget why you are here
It is easy to get homesick when you are in a new place with new people and unfamiliar territories. Who wouldn’t miss the ones they love? But try not to dwell on thinking about them. It is healthy to miss your home, but it isn’t good to become so wrapped up in it that you are unhappy and forget to participate in the new experience. Make new friends, go to new places and have fun! That’s why you’re here!
4. Don’t mind the rollercoaster that is your feelings
Culture shock — it happens to us all and there isn’t any avoiding it. If you are mindful of your surroundings and stay open to all the new experiences you have, it will be easier. You will have your ups and downs. Some days you will feel miserable and want to just go home, and others you will be so happy you’ll wonder why you can’t just live here! If you keep in mind that where you’re studying is going to be different and there will be imperfections to this paradise, you will adjust a lot more easily and studying abroad will be a lot more fun!
Photo by ISEP student Rachael B., who studied abroad in Australia.
5. Don’t hide in your room
I will admit that being abroad is tiring. There is so much to do in seemingly so little time all while you are making new friends, adjusting to the new culture and keeping up with your studies. It can be intimidating at times. It is tempting to go into your room where you can be alone and revisit the more familiar and relaxing part of your life, be it reading your favorite book, playing on your computer or interacting on social media websites. It is good to rest now and then to reconnect with yourself but it is easy to become reclusive, especially when you are feeling down. Make yourself go somewhere! Even if it just a walk around the block, you will find yourself happier having not hid in your room all day.
6. Don’t make assumptions about cultures
We already know we are in a place different from our own. Of course, this means that the people are going to act differently too. Try not to rely on your experiences at home to assess the situations at hand. What may be considered polite at home could be rude in your host culture and visa versa. If you feel hurt by someone, investigate. Ask locals, look online or read a few books. The answer is not going to be found by getting offended. Don’t jump to conclusions, because one thing you will learn by living in a new culture is that the seemingly obvious is not.
7. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone
I can’t emphasize this enough. Where you are is NEW. This doesn’t only mean geographically. It means that EVERYTHING is new and this includes you. One of the many wonders of studying abroad is the change in you that it brings. It is the ultimate opportunity to discover new things about yourself, even if that isn’t your intention. So don’t stick to what you did at home. Try out new hobbies. Sign up for new clubs. Visit activities you never thought you’d do!
8. Don’t forget to manage your love life
First, make sure if you are leaving a boyfriend or girlfriend at home that everything is agreed upon between you two. Understand how to communicate, what you want to do while being physically separated and so on. You do not want to be juggling relationship problems at home from abroad.
Second, be careful how you interact with people from a different culture. There are different ways to flirt as opposed to just being friendly depending on the culture. Don’t be misled or be the one misleading.
Third, if you find your long-lost love while abroad, that’s great! However, you should remember that you aren’t going to be studying abroad forever and eventually you will have to go back home. Long-distance relationships can work but they are no walk in the park. Be sure to talk to your newfound love about what to do when you have to leave.
9. Don’t be poor
I don’t mean throw all of your money away and live in a box for the entire trip.
What I mean is to be smart financially - be prepared without over preparing and don’t waste money on expensive trips.
Try to find the cheapest things out there, and trust me, there are plenty. When you end up avoiding the more costly and delicious foods you have come to love, you’ll find that you often get a better, more budget friendly glimpse into the local culture. Try new foods, explore secondhand clothing shops and try more casual local joints for a meal.
10. Don’t be a tourist
This is a bit more of a personal idea, but I feel that is may be one of the most important things to keep in mind while traveling. Go to all of the famous sites, get some souvenirs and have fun but don’t be a tourist. Don’t be ignorant of the daily life you are living in. Be a part of it. Go to places that aren’t all that popular. Do what isn’t considered popular. Remember that you are doing more than just studying at a school. You are studying a culture, so try to be a part of it! You have no idea the amazing things you will do when you go to the places not advertised in brochures.
Are you ready to study abroad? Find out more about all of your options on the ISEP website.
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