Cultural Experience | Resources

Top 10 Really Great Study Abroad Tips

Here’s some things that you’ll realize after you study abroad, so take heed of them now before you go and make the most of your experience!

When you love something, you want to tell everyone all about it. You want to make them love the thing as much as you do. You want to prepare them for the thing you love so that they, too, will understand why it’s great and treasure their thing as much as you. This is a list of things that anyone studying abroad should know before they go, because I loved study abroad, and I want everyone else to love it as much as I did. Here is your list of top 10 tips to consider before leaving for your trip abroad, and I do hope it helps you love your time abroad as much as I did.

10. Pack peanut butter/Snacks you can’t live without. 

One of the best things about being abroad is the food, which you will be sure to enjoy. However, depending on where you are, the food might be redundant/expensive/occasionally too strange, and you really won’t regret having a some peanut butter and crackers or your favorite granola bars with you to snack on in times of duress. Peanut butter is a hot commodity abroad and the native stuff is really strange or you can’t find it at all. So stock up!

9. DON’T overpack. Or at least save lots of room for stuff you’ll buy. 

I overpack whenever I do anything from spending the night at a friend’s house to traveling around the world for 5 months. Here’s a secret: You end wearing the same few things the entire time. (Unless you’re a really efficient smart packer, but most of us have imaginations much larger than our suitcases.) If you don’t wear it in your regular life, you probably won’t wear it abroad. Having too much stuff becomes a burden whether you’re lugging a backpack or suitcase around, or trying to stuff all your clothes in a tiny little dorm room. Also, it will be way more fun to have room to take home all the useless but awesome trinkets you WILL buy in cheap markets abroad.  Use these packing guides to help you out

8. If going with people you already know, try really hard to also branch out. 

One of the coolest things about being abroad with people are the bonds you form with each other simply by navigating a foreign place and having the best time of your lives, together. For some reason, being in a foreign country with people makes it super easy to become best friends forever. If there are already people you know and/or are already good pals with on your study abroad, by all means continue being their friend, but do not let the chance to get to know someone you never would have met otherwise get away from you. In other words, be friends with everyone and don’t be too cliquey!

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Study abroad friends in Vietnam!

7. Go to class! Read your textbooks! Try in school! Be a nerd!

Call me a nerd, but although the school part of study abroad can sometimes feel like it’s hindering your chance to see the world, there is a lot you can and should get out of it, if you put some effort into your classes. It is STUDY abroad for a reason. Try to take courses abroad that are relevant to the place you are studying, or to travel and international issues in general. There really is something special about being in a place you are learning about. It brings its history and culture alive.

6. Become an expert on your place before you go. 

You’ll learn a ton about your study abroad country while you’re there, but why not get a head start? Becoming an amateur expert on the place where you will spend your next few months will not only help you get used to living there quicker, but it will be really handy when you are trying not to be an obnoxious foreigner who had no regard for local culture or customs. Also, it will be really fascinating to learn about your new home.

5. Form a routine. 

Once you are in your new study abroad country, the hard part of starting studying abroad will kick in. Everything is unfamiliar. You are away from the comforts of home. You might not actually know anyone. Maybe the food is weird. How do you figure out this subway system anyway? All of these things will get better, very quickly. But a way to speed that up is to form a routine! Even though you are in a foreign country, you will probably find yourself slightly less busy and frantic than you are at home, simply because you have some more time on your hands. Manage this time by making a routine! Find a cool place for coffee in the mornings, go to class, go to a local park to do some reading in the afternoons, explore in the evening… Study abroad is often spontaneous, in the greatest of ways, but some routine will be comfortable, especially in the beginning.

4. Pick a place, and become a regular!

Slightly related to Tip #5, but one of the coolest things about being abroad is feeling like a local in your city. A fun way to do this is to become a regular somewhere. Pick a coffee shop or cafe of some sort that you love, and add it to your routine. Go regularly. Maybe you’ll meet other people who also regularly go there. It’s really fun to feel like you have your own special place in your abroad city, and it’s not an illusion. If you get to know your place and its people, it will be partially your place! Live like a local.

3. Do ALL the things!

I told you to find a routine in your study abroad life for the purpose of making your life somewhat more regular. BUT, at the same, do NOT be afraid to be a little crazy and just say yes to things! Do everything you can! Go see plays, travel on the weekend, visit new, interesting parts of town. Do all the things. Even if you’re super exhausted, a little cautious, or way too busy, try as hard as you can to do as much as you can abroad, because this is your chance. (Within the realm of common sense and safety, of course.)

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Exploring Angkor Wat!

2. Write it down. 

If the only things you have to remember what will be one of the coolest experiences of your life are photos, you will be really mad at yourself in a few years. Keeping a journal is like the mandatory tip. Not only is it really important to remember you experiences, but writing down everything you experience helps you process it in a way that only writing can do! You realize things and come to conclusions that are just sort of floating around your subconscious when you write them down. Keeping a blog is another great way to do this, and it also lets others share in your experiences in a way. Yes, the hardest part about blogging/journaling is actually finding a time to do it, but if you just commit to writing at least something down every night before you go to bed, you will thank yourself down the road.

Better yet, create an author’s profile with college tourist to record your favorite adventures abroad.  You can sign up here.

1. Find a balance between touristy and local things. 

On one hand, sometimes we feel we are missing out if we don’t see all the famous “touristy” sites of a place. We are tourists, after all, and we do not want to miss out. On the other hand, visiting sites and touring doesn’t quite give you a full sense of the culture of a place you are trying to explore and get to know. You should spend a lot of time just wandering around markets and neighborhoods, visiting local restaurants, parks, and cafes and just observing people. But there is also nothing wrong with touring and visiting museums, historical sites and awesome landmarks. Those things are part of a country too, and visiting them often teaches you something that you can’t get from just wandering around town. You should find a balance, and remember that it’s okay to be a tourist and a local… because that is what you become when you study abroad.

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Tourist sites are cool too.

Jenna Peck

Southern Methodist University | 17 stories

Jenna Peck is a senior majoring in History and English at Southern Methodist University from Long Beach, California. She has studied abroad in Italy, England and has recently returned from a voyage around the world on Semester-at-Sea. She loves to travel and really finds it difficult to stay in one place for a long period of time, but when she does she loves to read, explore the world of the internet, blog and find exciting things to do right at home in Dallas, Texas!

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