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10 Things to Do when You Study Abroad

September 25, 2013

Studying abroad is about making the most of wherever you are. ISEP Program Officer Hilary H has insider tips from her study abroad experiences — here are her top 10 things that she recommends all students do while abroad!

1. Make local friends.

ISEP student Mei Ling made friends in the sand and sunshine when she studied abroad at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates
ISEP student Mei Ling made friends in the sand and sunshine when she studied abroad at the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates

You will undoubtedly make wonderful friends while abroad. Some of my best memories from my ISEP Direct program in Montevideo, Uruguay, were the outings and family gatherings my Uruguayan friends invited me to. I’m very fortunate to keep in touch with my friends from Uruguay and even went to my friend’s wedding in Montevideo last year! Local friends can provide you with great support and a home away from home while you are abroad.

2. Commune with nature.

ISEP students enjoy Nicaragua’s lush greenery during Universidad Americana’s summer Green Adventure Program
ISEP students enjoy Nicaragua’s lush greenery during Universidad Americana’s summer Green Adventure Program

Sure, you’re abroad to study and possibly learn a language, but don’t forget to take in the natural wonders around you. If you are in the U.S., places like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone provide wonderful opportunities to enjoy Mother Nature. If you really want a program with an environmental focus, check out our Green Adventure summer program at Universidad Americana in Nicaragua. This year students went volcano boarding, surfing, and observed the local turtles.

3. Live like a local.

“My roommate and I loved coming to the open market in Marsxaloxx early on Sunday mornings to pick up fresh fish and vegetables for dinner. The sellers would clean the fish right in front of us and often gave us suggestions for cooking. It felt surreal to be getting tips from locals while collecting fresh fish, standing on the Mediterranean coast.” – Tierney Hally, University of Vermont
“My roommate and I loved coming to the open market in Marsxaloxx early on Sunday mornings to pick up fresh fish and vegetables for dinner. The sellers would clean the fish right in front of us and often gave us suggestions for cooking. It felt surreal to be getting tips from locals while collecting fresh fish, standing on the Mediterranean coast.” – Tierney Hally, University of Vermont

Take the transportation locals use! If you’re in the Netherlands that may mean a bike, or if you’re in Japan that may mean the subway. You can shop like a local too! Farmers’ markets are a great way to buy fresh, local produce, and practice those language skills. You should also check out opportunities to get engaged in your community — I volunteered through my university, and it was one of the best parts of my experience!

4. Keep a travel journal.

“I kept a hand-made journal throughout my whole year abroad. I wrote in thoughts, feelings, kept receipts, tickets, pieces of work…basically everything! I’ve just got back from my year abroad and it is such a nice thing to keep and remember my time in America.” – Kathryn Metcalfe, University of Chester
“I kept a hand-made journal throughout my whole year abroad. I wrote in thoughts, feelings, kept receipts, tickets, pieces of work…basically everything! I’ve just got back from my year abroad and it is such a nice thing to keep and remember my time in America.” – Kathryn Metcalfe, University of Chester

Documenting your experience is important! The memories you make while abroad will last a lifetime. You can share your experiences with friends and family back home by blogging or sharing your photos on Instagram – remember to tag them with #ISEPStudyAbroad! If paper and pen is more your style (it was mine), think about keeping ticket stubs or other mementos from your trip.

5. Play (or watch!) sports.

Simona from Masaryk University participated in the Spring Color Me Rad run on Missouri State University campus!
Simona from Masaryk University participated in the Spring Color Me Rad run on Missouri State University campus!

Sports are an important part of culture. In the U.S. as an ISEP Exchange student, you can even participate in March Madness! Football, or soccer to our American friends, is popular around the world. In Spain you can root for Real Madrid (my team!) in El Clásico, a game between Real Madrid and Barcelona. Badminton, cricket, rugby, and more are popular in many countries, so ask your local friends how to get tickets to a match, or learn how to play!

6. See the sites in your “new” backyard.

Hilary’s mom at Macchu Pichu. They visited the (not so local) sites!
Hilary’s mom at Macchu Pichu. They visited the (not so local) sites!

Whether you’re in Botswana or Belgium, get to know your new city and country well. One of my regrets is not getting to know other parts of Uruguay better. I loved my trips to Argentina and Chile, but I wish I’d explored my own “backyard” a little more.

7. Learn the language.

A study abroad student practices Japanese calligraphy.
A study abroad student practices Japanese calligraphy.

Try to use the language of the locals. If you need to brush up on those language skills, check out a language class. Even if you’re in a country where you already speak the language, learn the local slang. When I first got to Montevideo people kept asking me “¿Cómo andas?” (which literally means, “How are you walking?”). At first, my thought was, “With two feet – just like you!” After asking my host mom, she explained that “¿Cómo andas?” is the Uruguayan version of “How´s it going?”

8. Embrace your inner chef.

Making onion pakodas!
Making onion pakodas!

I cherish the times I spent with my host family in their kitchen. My Uruguayan host mom, Silvia, is one of the best cooks in the world (I’m not biased or anything), and she shared some of her great recipes with me. Read about Maria’s cooking lessons in India; she even shares the recipe she learned!

9. Get festive.

EuroChocolate in Perugia, Italy
EuroChocolate in Perugia, Italy

Chances are you’ll have the opportunity to attend a local festival or holiday celebration. ISEP student Wildaly attended the EuroChocolate Festival in Italy, which sounds delicious and fun! International students in the U.S. and Canada will have the opportunity to experience Thanksgiving , a unique celebration of friends and family. Read about Yoann’s first Thanksgiving!

10. Go to class (no, really. GO!).

Green terraces on the Universidad Icesi campus
Green terraces on the Universidad Icesi campus

Your home university will likely have policies regarding the transfer of credits and grades, and the number of credits needed abroad to maintain financial aid. Plus, classroom cultures vary around the world, so this will be a part of your international experience!

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