Taking the leap to study abroad can be equal parts nerve-wracking jitters and over the moon excitement! Whether you’re preparing for your adventure overseas or already there having the time of your life, here are eight great tips to make the most of the experience.
1. Step out of your comfort zone, even with your program choice.
While you’re deciding what program to pick or what city to explore, try to step out of your comfort zone. I always knew I wanted to go to London, but I didn’t really want to attend a program where I would be taught by professors from my college or be with people from my same school. So I decided to take a leap and pick a program that has people from all over, and where the professors are locals. By doing this, I have met a variety of people from all over the U.S., even from my hometown, and created friendships I hope to keep in the future. By having professors that are from the area, I’ve been able to get the local perspective and suggestions for tours of places I would have never even thought to have seen, and I experienced a different kind of teaching. These small classes are so different from my college, and you create a bond with everyone in there, even the professor, which makes you never want to leave. So if I have any piece of advice for you, it would be to take the leap. You never know where that jump of courage could take you.
2. Pack lightly, but make sure you bring enough – layers are your friend.
For weeks before my trip, I searched the Internet for the best possible packing list that would help me pack for London. I printed out multiple lists and when it came time to put everything in the suitcase, I had a bed full of clothes. Even with all those clothes, when I arrived I still didn’t have enough. The weather was much colder than I expected, and I ended up having to go buy more sweaters to help me survive the cold. So when you’re packing, make sure you’re not packing too heavily, but also make sure you’re prepared for any weather and different seasons. Bring outfits that can be dressed down or up and bring layers. But remember – unless you want to pay extra, make sure your bag stays under 50 pounds.
3. Bring good walking shoes.
If there is one thing I regret not packing, it would be good shoes to walk around in. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve come home from a day of exploring, and my feet ache from the amount of walking we have done while I wore sandals, combat boots, etc. You’re going to be doing a lot of walking in a new city, seeing as much of it as you possibly can before you leave, so you’ll want to be comfortable while you’re doing it. So please, bring shoes that can endure lots of walking.
4. Try to see as much of the city you’re in as you can.
I know when you’re in some place like Europe, traveling to other countries is so easy, and it’s fun to explore as much of it as you can. But you’re studying abroad in your city for a reason. Going home and knowing you did everything you could in that city is a great feeling. Sure, why not take a trip or two somewhere else, but make sure you’re getting the full experience of the city you’re in while you’re there.
5. Keep in touch with your family and friends – but watch your minutes!
The time difference may be 6 hours, but your family and friends will want to know how and what you’re doing. They’ll enjoy hearing from you whether it is a simple text or a phone call. Send pictures to them and keep them updated. It will mean so much to them that you took the time out of your trip to think about them.
6. Spend more time looking at the things around you than looking down at your phone.
As ironic as this is for me to say, since I’m on my phone 24/7 at home, I’m super thankful I got a limited phone plan while abroad. Since I can’t use my phone unless I’m on WiFi, I’ve been living more in the moment and seeing what’s around me rather than texting away on my phone. Yes, I still use it to document what I’m doing with pictures and Snapchats for later, but that time is limited. It allows me to experience my surroundings more fully and take in everything without the world in my phone distracting me.
7. Try new foods.
Yet another ironic thing for me to say. Since birth, I’ve been the pickiest eater the world has ever known. But lately, I’ve been trying new food and much to my surprise… I’ve loved it!! From crepes (I mean who wouldn’t like these??), to the local foods to Middle Eastern and Indian food, I’ve found new loves of many different cuisines. So take advice #1, take a step out of your comfort zone, and try something you’ve never tasted before. Who knows, you might end up loving it! And if you don’t, at least you tried it!
8. Keep something you can go back and reflect on.
If I can offer any one piece of advice, this would be it. In a year’s time and for many years down the road, you’ll be thankful you kept something that documents your time abroad. Whether that is a photo album, a blog, a journal, whatever, find a way to document your time away. In a year’s time, let alone a month’s time, you’ll forget the little details of your trip. Make sure you keep track of these memories by writing them down or expressing them in some way. You’ll be happy you did.
This post was contributed by Emily Fletcher, who is spending her summer studying with AIFS in London, England.