In case anyone is thinking about studying abroad, I compiled a short list about how to make the most of your time abroad. These are things that I’ve discovered and have found very helpful.
1) When choosing a program, carefully consider where you want to study. Do you want to learn another language or are you sticking with English? Are you big city person and into the hustle and bustle of say Paris or London? Or maybe you would rather slow down and live somewhere a bit out of the way. Be sure to think it over and pick the location that would be best for you.
2) Many programs offer a variety of living conditions. Some programs have students live in dorms at a local university so you can get really involved in student life. Others offer apartment housing, which is great if you want more space or to have people over a lot. The option I’ve always gone with is home-stays because I wanted to really see day-to-day life in the local culture and feel more integrated. There’s no right or wrong answer, decide what would be the best fit for your personality.
3) Get involved. If you’re living with a host family try to do as much with them as you can, even if it’s only offering to cut vegetables as your host mom prepares dinner. Any little sign that shows you want to be involved is important. Don’t sit in your room with the door closed all the time. This sends the wrong signals.
4) If you’re in a country that speaks a different language, try to speak it, always. Sometimes it’s tempting to switch back to English, I know, I’m guilty of this. Sometimes it’s actually easier to speak the language with non-native speakers than native ones because you tend to formulate sentences the same way when translating thoughts. Also, don’t be too scared to try to speak with locals. Even if you don’t know exactly how to express yourself, say it out anyway. Do your best and get the words out there, regardless of whether you use the wrong word order, verb tense, or case. Spit it out, and the native speaker will piece it together. You’ll improve a lot more by just trying than by spending too much time formulating the perfect sentence in your head.
5) Have a good balance of traveling and being at home. Obviously when you’re abroad, you want to travel as much as possible. Take advantage of all the cheap flights through Ryanair, for example if you’re in Europe. A $70 Ryanair ticket is a heck of a lot better than $2,000 ticket you would be buying to get you there from the US. I recommend traveling lot in the area near where you live. This semester I spent a lot of weekends exploring some of the other towns in the region, so I got to see more of Provence. Don’t be away from home too much; you don’t want to be a stranger in your own city. Spend time around town too, so you get to know your home away from home like the back of your hand.
6) Stay for a year. A semester is just too short. By the time you feel like you’ve really settled, made some good friends, and can finally leave your city map at home, it’s time to pack up and go home. Especially when you have to speak another language, by the end of one semester you finally start feeling comfortable with the language, and your ability to speak will skyrocket with another semester.
7) Remember, studying abroad is a process, and it brings a roller-coaster of emotions. Some days you’ll love it, others you’ll do anything to go back to real life. It’s normal to feel crazy, happy, angry, homesick, and not ready to ever go home all at the same time. Give it time, and I promise everything will work out.
With that, go forth and travel! And be sure to pack me in your suitcase so I can come along too!
PS: please, please, please- don’t pack too much. I’m currently packing a box of stuff to mail home. (Thank goodness for flat rate boxes!) My one suitcase and backpack weigh a ton and are making traveling 50 times more difficult than it needs to be.