Everything that you could possibly check off a to-do list I did. I crossed all my t’s and dotted my I’s. I was ready, or so I thought. Beginning with the end in mind is a tried and true adage that holds true to most life experiences, and studying abroad is no different. Here are 10 pieces of advice I wish I would have had before my flight landed.
This list was harder to make than one would think and here’s why: there are travel bloggers who have traveled more than me, and students who’ve had higher GPA’s and gone to better schools than me. And both can probably give better advice on travel hacking and grades. If you combine these two areas you get the process of studying abroad, which is where I flourished, and coincidentally tried to focus this list without getting into travel hacking or study habits where you can find advice on in plenty of other places.
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Go slow at the beginning
I remember the first few weeks after I landed I tried to go out to do and see everything. This happens to a lot of people who travel but probably more so to students because they are young, alone, and have more money than they’re used to having. Don’t worry, you’re going to get to do everything that you want to do, but you need to have patience.
My advice for when you first get to wherever you’re going is to take one of those bus tours around the city if its big enough and sample some of the local cuisine.
Aside from that just wait and try to get know your new classmates and plan future activities with them. You have no idea what other travelers would give to be in a school setting where you can meet new people who are around the same age and have something in common with.
You’re all going to be plugged into to different mediums that you consume for travel advice and guidance: blogs, podcasts, apps, and advice from other friends who’ve done it before. Whatever the consensus of your new found friends is will most likely consist of your weekend activities.
Learn from your host family if you have one
What I mean by this is learn the nuances about the culture you are trying to become a part of. What time do they eat? How long do they eat? This is what its all about, and why studying abroad has been proven to give you more self clarity.
You have probably never lived in a world where the majority of people didn’t grow up getting excited for a football game on Friday nights. Life is different in other countries, and your host family is there to help you transition into living in yours. If you’re trying to learn a language they’ll probably help you just as much, if not more than your classes. Ask them lots questions, and try to have meaningful conversations.
The family also might be involved with your major in some way, they might know something that’s not in the travel blogs. Tickets to events, interesting happenings, etc. But you’ll never know the doors they can open if you don’t take the time to hear their story.
Don’t send it all to social media right away
I am not saying don’t post pictures of last weekend’s excursion on Instagram, but what I am saying is save a little and for Pete’s sake, forget Snapchat, this is a time you want recorded and remembered.
Treat your pictures and videos like a commodity. You’re only going to have a finite amount of these so keep that in mind too. Everyone loves seeing a picture pop up six months later from an activity or event from which there were multiple pictures. And six months…how about six years? #TBT.
If you want to take it even farther, start a simple blog and post some of it there. I will get into this in future posts, but it demonstrates a level of professionalism and could potentially morph into something you will use to apply for a job down the road. Everyone uses social media, but not everyone has a blog.
Explore your school and introduce yourself
I have always said that given the price of tuition, the two biggest reasons reasons to attend college are the memories and the resources available. Most students don’t utilize the ladder and have no idea what they’re missing out on. Websites you have access to that companies normally pay thousands of dollars for, equipment and rooms you can rent for free, counselors, and the list goes on and on.
The above is what schools in the United States have, and I have no clue what schools in other countries offer, but they probably have something of value that is available to students. On that note, you should also meet as many as the faculty as you can. Walk around and introduce yourself. Like with your host family, you have no idea what the hidden gems of the city are, and the more people you meet, the more opportunities you will have to explore and try new things.
Get involved with some kind of team activity
When I studied abroad one of my roommates was from France and joined a I rugby team. I went to the gym and worked out (by myself). They have rec leagues at your school back home, and guess what…they’ve got them abroad too. But for some reason, most people throw all team sports out the window when they leave the country.
Here is why you should join:
- You’ll meet new people
- It will help with language learning if that is why you are there
- Its exercise
- It assimilates you to the culture more (e.g. you’re probably going to be playing soccer instead of football)
When I was abroad I had one team activity where I subbed in for a club baseball team. I don’t remember how or why it happened, but it was an adventure. The diamond was about 45 minutes outside of the city and I road in a van with the team to and from the game. Every country and city is different, but if you seek out a team sport of some kind you will find one.
This part ties in with the section above and honestly, is meant mostly for guys. Girls have no problem taking pictures and guys do. Girls usually take too many, but when you’re traveling you can’t take enough. Guys on the other hand barely take any.
Keep in touch
You will have to come home, it’s inevitable. BE SURE TO KEEP IN TOUCH with everyone that you want to. Don’t just view their social feed and think that is keeping in touch, its not. I understand that the more time goes by, the harder it is to keep in touch. The fact of the matter is that you have gone through and experienced this once in a lifetime opportunity a handful of people and that is ‘for the rest of your life’ shit.
When you get back home you’ve now got lifelong friends who are scattered throughout the country and I’m betting since you already studied abroad that you like to travel. Now you’ve got this network of people your same age whom you have made cherished memories with that will be happy to entertain you whenever it is that you stumble into their corner of the country.