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10 Things I’ve Learned from Studying Abroad

by Ashley Whitwell
AIFS Abroad student in Spain

1. Accept the fact that you’re going to get homesick.

Granada is so amazing that even though I have missed home, I’ve never wished that I was home more than I’ve been happy to be here, if that makes any sense. That being said, homesickness is real. It’s okay to let yourself miss things, but it’s important to keep an optimistic mindset. Be glad that there are things you miss, because that will give you something to look forward to when this amazing adventure is all over.

2. Be open to your new culture.

It’s hard to get used to different schedules or mannerisms, but remember you’re a guest in this country. It’s your responsibility to adapt to their culture, not vice versa. For example, in Spain, I eat all my meals at weird times, and that was really hard to get used to. They’re also a lot more blunt here, which is refreshing, but I know if I wasn’t willing to adapt to their culture, I’d probably get offended!

AIFS Abroad student in Florence, italy

3. Learn the language

…Or at least a few phrases.  Like I said in the last point, it’s not their job to adapt to your standard. Don’t expect everyone to know English if you’re not living in an English speaking country. It shows more about you than it does your host country.

4. Save more money than you think you need to.

There will be emergencies, and things will go wrong, so I recommend saving as much as you think you need. And then maybe double it.

AIFS Abroad students

5. You will get sick.

When you arrive in a new country, you basically have the immune system of a newborn baby. I didn’t believe this when I first got here, but believe me, they’re right. So make sure you’re getting a lot of sleep, and wash your hands every time you get off a bus, plane, train, taxi, etc.  Also, referring to the last point, make sure you have emergency money for unexpected doctor’s bills, because those add up too.

6. Long distance relationships are hard, but possible.

Four months isn’t a long time, but it feels like it when you’re away from your loved ones, especially your significant other.  Communication is vital to make a relationship work! Be honest with how you’re feeling, bottling things up can really hurt the relationship. I could say a lot of cheesy things about how we’re both stronger because of this time apart and this that and whatever, but I won’t. However, I will say is that it is possible to be independent and still be in a relationship. I’m aware of how my boyfriend feels and I let him know what’s going on in my life, while still maintaining my independence and learning who I am as an individual. Keep your boyfriend/girlfriend in mind, but remember why you’re studying abroad, and make sure the relationship is still having a positive impact on your life, and that it’s not keeping you from doing what you really want to do.

AIFS Abroad student in Spain

7. Try new foods.

It’s okay if you don’t like them (as was the case with me and the fish with the heads), but don’t knock it until you try it! If you don’t like it, at least you’ll know for sure instead of just speculating.

8. Make native friends.

They’ll give you insights about your city you wouldn’t know otherwise, and they’re also a great resource for learning the language.  I’ve met so many unbelievably nice University of Granada students through intercambios. We still keep in touch and I hope we keep in touch even when I’m back home!

AIFS Abroad students in Spain

9. Only bring half a suitcase worth of stuff.

You’ll buy enough to fill the other half, and if your suitcase is full when you get here, what are you going to do about buying new things (because you will definitely buy new things)?

10. Take school seriously.

There can be a negative connotation toward study abroad, because a lot of people use it as blow-off semester. But remember the study part of study abroad is important too, even if you’re grades don’t directly transfer back to your home university.  I also recommend getting involved with your program to prove that you didn’t slack off throughout the semester and you can show that to your school or even to potential employers, ask your Program Directors about volunteering opportunities, or become an AIFS Blogger.  Just get involved!

This post was contributed by Ashley Whitwell, who has spent her fall semester studying abroad with AIFS in Granada, Spain.

10 Things I've Learned from Studying Abroad | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in Granada, Spain

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