Choosing where to study abroad was arguably one of the most difficult decisions of my college career. There are so many factors that played into the decision – price and duration of the program, class availability, weather, excursions or trips included. I knew I wanted to study in a Spanish-speaking country but was overwhelmed with the number of options I had when choosing a program. Once I discovered ISEP’s Spring Semester in the Andes, I began reading travel pages about Ecuador, looking through ISEP students’ Instagram pictures, and even watching YouTube vlogs about life in Cuenca and what to expect.
While it is important to do background research on the country you are traveling to (especially to review laws, customs, cost of living) the truth is, your experience abroad will be unlike any other person’s. Even if it’s in the same city or at the same university, students enter their semesters abroad with different expectations, attitudes, and goals and therefore have different stories and memories. Here are three important tips on how to enjoy and make the most of your time abroad, wherever the destination may be.
1. Keep up with your hobbies or create a new routine.
In a new environment, it’s essential to continue with some old habits to prevent feeling homesick. It can really help you feel at home even though you’re probably thousands of miles away. Self-care is important to maintain a good mental-health standing and I’ve found that doing regular at-home face masks and getting the occasional pedicure (for only $10 in Cuenca!) have been vital in making me feel refreshed and relaxed when I’m feeling overwhelmed. Additionally, a fun little routine I’ve made with a friend is stopping for lunch at a local restaurant every Monday. It’s quick, cheap, and gives us something to look forward to at the beginning of each week.
2. Don’t compare your trip to anyone else’s.
With social media being as popular as it is, it’s easy to get caught up comparing your experience with your friends’. When you see other students posting beautiful pictures of them traveling from city to city, you may feel jealous or disappointed with how your own travels are going. At the end of the day, Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook are just highlight reels and people very rarely document their struggles or bad days. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “comparison is the thief of joy;” don’t let your experience be tainted by how much fun it looks like someone else is having, and instead, make fun memories for yourself and live in the moment.
3. If you don’t like something, change it.
While it is admittedly easier said than done, changing things you don’t like can have a huge impact on your overall attitude and spirit. For example, if your host mom makes you food that you don’t enjoy eating every day for breakfast, politely speak up! Although it may be awkward at first, a tiny correction can make all the difference; like when you no longer have to dread eating a mushroom omelet every morning. Though you may forget this sometimes, the people around you want you to have a positive experience in their country. If you ask for help when you need it and prioritize your needs and wants, you can create a more rewarding environment for you and the people around you.
Every program will have its ups and downs and it’s up to you to make it the best experience it can be. No amount of internet-based investigating will prepare you for the obstacles or challenges you may face. This is not to say that Ecuador hasn’t been a dream for me. The city is the perfect size, the people are wonderful, and my host mom makes some of the best food I’ve ever had. I am beyond grateful that Cuenca has already proved an excellent fit for me, however, I truly believe that attitude is everything and even if there are some obstacles and things you dislike about your chosen destination, you can overcome them and still have the time of your life abroad.
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