I’ve come across hundreds of articles on the web which cover what to bring, how to pack, and all of the minutia involved in getting to your study abroad destination, but what about how to make the most of your time once you’ve touched down, unpacked and settled into your time abroad? While no two trips are alike, there are universal, necessary efforts you can make to be sure that you have the time of your life during your semester or year in a foreign country. Here’s our quick-and-dirty list of practical tips – 9 proven ways to guarantee an epic study abroad experience:
Choose the Right Classes
If you’re in Spain make sure your classes are centered around Spanish history and culture – don’t take Biology or another class which you could easily take back home. Try to identify classes which will include trips and allow you to engage with the local culture and community you’re living in. Taking a French art history class will be enhanced dramatically by a trip to the Louvre and your classroom experience will certainly deepen your enjoyment and understanding of French artwork in local museums and galleries.
Set Fun Goals
While one of your goals may be to improve conversational language skills during your time abroad, try to get specific and make a list of skills you plan to take home with you. Maybe your goal will be to learn to cook 3 classic Italian dishes during your semester in Italy or perhaps you hope to attend at least 5 shows in the West End theatre district during your year in London. Choose something which you know you can achieve and this will give you something concrete and creative to work toward during your time abroad.
Make Friends with Locals
Don’t spend your entire semester on campus. If you’re spending 4 months in Germany make sure that you set a goal to depart with at least one new friendship. This will force you to engage with your community and you’ll likely learn more about the country you’re visiting from a local resident than you could hope to during your time in the classroom. When you arrive in your new home dive in with both feet and sign up for a club, choir or sports team. Choose something which you enjoy and excel at back at home and leverage your skills and passion to connect with members of your new community.
Embrace The Local Lifestyle
If you’re living with a host family – great! The key to fostering a strong relationship with your new family is to go into the experience with an open mind. Try to harmonize with their lifestyle and rhythms, embracing their schedule and learning about your new country by embracing the chance to learn about and respect their values, priorities and way of life. It’s a good idea to have a conversation right away so that you’re clear about the expectations and customs which are in place. This will allow you to be respectful and foster a great relationship right from the very beginning. Use food and hobbies to connect with your new family – don’t be a picky eater … make sure you at least try every meal that’s prepared for you and offer to help clean up afterwards so that instead of feeling like a guest you can feel like part of the family.
If you have a lump sum of funds available to fund your adventures during the trip make sure you use your available funds as a way to get inspired for savvy traveling. Don’t blow through all of your money on a couple of large expenses and limit yourself for the balance of your stay – instead try to find a number of low-budget, high-fun adventures and activities which will enrich your time abroad, spreading out your money over the course of your trip. One of the great things about traveling as a student is that there are hundreds of budget-friendly opportunities to enrich your experience. Make sure you’re stretching your dollar to get the most out of your time abroad. Setting a monthly budget (and sticking to it) is a great way to guarantee that there’s room for fun throughout your stay.
No – I’m not going to lecture you the way your parents might, but it is important to be aware that you’re no longer on the safe confines of your college campus. It’s up to you to make wise decisions about where you go, when you go there and who you’re traveling with. It’s a good rule of thumb to always travel with a friend, especially after dark. Do some research and find out if there are any parts of town you should try to avoid.
Homesickness Happens – Overcome It
Advice like “stay positive” is tiresome and not very helpful. When you’re homesick the last thing you want is to have someone who is home tell you to “keep your chin up.” The fact of the matter is that overcoming homesickness while you’re studying abroad is within your control and a combination of factors will help.
- First – make sure you have signed up for activities … If you’re keeping busy doing things that you’re interested in you won’t have as much time to feel homesick.
- Next – limit the amount of time each day to be in touch with your friends and family back home. Set aside some time for Skype, email or instant messages, but don’t get caught up and spend most of your free time with this – you’re in a wonderful place and sometimes all it takes to realize that is to get outside and enjoy it.
- Finally – try to ditch the technology and go old school. Write letters on local stationary or take a day to buy beautiful postcards to send home to your friends and family. This will cost a bit more than email, but it gives you an activity and your efforts will reward friends and family with beautiful mementos they’ll treasure for years.
Make it Work
While getting a job or taking on an internship during your time overseas may not sound very glamorous – picture the look on your future employer’s face during your first job interview when you mention that not only are you fluent in another language but that you worked in a busy cafe or taverna taking orders during the morning and lunchtime rush! Not only can landing a part-time job look great on your resume and provide you with some extra spending money during your time abroad it will certainly help you to improve your language skills and allow you to quickly put down roots in the community you’re living in.
Travel (but do it later)
Wherever you’re studying abroad it’s important that you spend some time traveling to put your new home within a broader context. There’s more to Italy than Rome, Venice and Florence and getting off the beaten path with a weekend road trip can be a great way to learn about your temporary home. My advice, though, is not to rush this part of your trip. If you spend some time and get more comfortable with the language, customs and rhythms of your new home before setting off this will allow you to make the most of your trip – speaking with a new brand of confidence which will keep your focus on the world around you rather than on your inflection and verb tense.
Remember that your study abroad experience is supposed to be fun. For many it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to live in a foreign country, and for others studying abroad is the beginning of a lifelong passion for international travel. Whichever category you fall into we encourage you to make the most of your time abroad – throwing yourself into your education both inside and outside the classroom.
And remember that if you need a budget-friendly vehicle for a day trip or you’re staying somewhere rural and you’re looking for a long-term lease of a brand new Peugeot, Auto Europe has a variety of options sure to delight. Browse our car rental guides or give us a call toll-free at 1-888-223-5555 to speak with a friendly member of our team.