With my lengthy study abroad experience at its conclusion, I thought it apt to look ahead to those that might study abroad in the future. So, please enjoy the following ten tips for study abroad.
1) Do your research
Nothing says preparation for a lengthy time abroad, whether three or nine months, like a little bit of research. Know a thing or two about the country you will be spending part of your immediate future in. Where is it and what region is it a part of? Is there some basic history to consider? What is the capital and how many people live there? Simple questions like this as well as a quick Wikipedia or Google search will get you thinking about the place that you will learn to call home.
2) Take care of business
Being physically present in your host country while mentally in your original country is a shame. It limits the opportunities that are available to you because your mind is so far removed from your physical being. Instead, aim to divorce yourself as much as possible from the familiar life of your campus, college friends, and family. Though it may be scary, this offers you the ability to be present in-country rather than concerned about what is going on wherever you came from. Transnational living is hard enough as it is; being present helps overcome that difficulty.
3) Pack light
You will come back with stuff. And in all likelihood, lots and lots of stuff. As such, do your future self a favor by taking no more than one-third as many clothes and at least twice as much money as you think you’ll need. Not only does this give you an opportunity to buy things that along the way, but also requires you to step outside your comfort zone and engage the community around you when you are looking for a tube of toothpaste or pair of flip-flops.
4) Do the do
Upon arrival and during your first few weeks abroad, not much will make sense. And in the case of being in an unfamiliar culture, walk the walk and talk the talk. While I’m not advocating copying every single behavior you see around you, it may become important to do some redefining, whether in terms of personal space, hygiene, food, language, or whatever else. Try to blend in as much as you feel that you can, as it gives you an opportunity to understand the culture in a way you might not have expected.
5) Two’s company…
and that makes three a crowd. When traveling and exploring the country, avoid big gatherings as much as you can. Small groups make possible a more personalized and individual experience while not allowing you to use fellow students as a crutch. Some of my most memorable experiences in Morocco came about when I was by myself or with one other student. There is something special about seeing the extraordinary – or the everyday – with company rather than a crowd.
6) Get lost
Though much of what you encounter abroad will be unfamiliar, that is part of the beauty of the experience; embrace it. Take advantage of opportunities to wander about and learn by doing. Find yourself lost in an unfamiliar part of town and try to figure out your way back. Practice your language skills while doing so and you will be taking immersion to a level that will enhance your experience. Figuring out your way back after being lost will also increase your confidence in what was once unfamiliar.
7) Have a conscientious camera
Contrary to what you might think, not everyone enjoys having their picture taken. As such, avoid being the ignorant tourist that points his or her camera at everything; you’re not a tourist. Realizing that you have more knowledge about the country and the culture than the average tourist, remember that you also have a responsibility to respect others more than most tourists do. When in doubt, ask. Better to receive a negative response than to offend someone.
8) Write often
Whether in a journal, on a blog, or both, putting your thoughts down makes for a positive negotiation of feelings. Studying abroad – and living abroad in general – tends to result in questions about yourself, your environment, and the relationship between the two. It is crucial in digesting ideas and thoughts since your time abroad will likely push you further outside your comfort zone than you thought possible. And besides all this, it will help you remember some of the incredible things that you will experience.
9) Think profoundly
Walking around with blinders on, a tunnel-vision attitude, or any other single-minded viewpoint means you may be missing a huge learning opportunity. The environment around you is probably different from what you are used to. Take advantage of this by thinking about all that you see, hear, smell, feel, taste, and so on. What is going on around you and how are you interacting with it? Why are you experiencing what you are experiencing? How can you understand more than you do at the moment?
10) Positive mental attitude
While having one of these is important in general, it is essential in an experience abroad. When you are encountering the unfamiliar, it is unlikely that you will fall in love with everything – and also unnecessary. Nonetheless, engaging your new environment with positivity rather than negativity ensures that you set yourself up for seeing the best in it rather than criticizing every little element that upsets you. And if nothing else, it helps you take care of your spirit.
Of course there is more to a successful study abroad experience than just these ten tips. However, I hope that these will offer you some food for thought when considering studying abroad. Thank you for joining me on this amazing journey. I hope it inspires you to begin one of your own.