Engaging in an international education opportunity can be a life changing experience. It means a new place with new people, maybe a new language to learn, and a new culture to soak up. With International Education Week happening, I felt it was important to connect and share a few tips and suggestions that I have found helpful since first getting started with my international experience.
Here are three ways you can make the most of studying abroad.
1. Explore new places and new sides of yourself.
Being dropped into a new place with new people can be scary at first. You may get lost and fumble asking for directions as you explore. Don’t lose hope — getting used to a place takes time. Whether you’re taking the bus or mastering the metro, you’ll get the hang of it. Learn how to ask for directions and don’t be afraid of the unknown. The world can be a wonderful place, and you just need to gather up some courage and explore it. I have always been afraid of being on my own in new surroundings, and moving to Paris was just that at first. I was scared, but only for a day or so — then I made some friends, got a roommate, and bought a metro map. I’ve gotten lost and had to ask for directions in a language I wasn’t very good at. Now that I’ve been here for a few months, I can navigate the metro system, I know some delicious places for lunch at a student-friendly price, and have found a new confidence in myself I wasn’t aware I possessed.
2. Connect with your roots and learn a new history.
Coming from the United States, also know as the melting pot, many of us have different heritages that we might like to learn more about. For me, connecting to my French heritage has always been a goal. I wanted to learn more about my personal family history.
Since coming to France, I have learned that my Great-Great Grandfather was born and raised in Honfleur, France. It’s a small and beautiful waterside town in the north of France. It’s a place where painters like Monet painted the boats in the harbor and the old wooden church that stands is the oldest wooden church in France. I learned that my Great-Great Grandfather ended up moving from here to Paris. He set up shop as a tanner, and had the privilege of attending Louis Pasteur’s funeral. This was his life before becoming a privateer and falling in love with my Great-Great Grandmother in New Caledonia, a small french territory in the South Pacific. There, he started his family — my family. By coming here, I have been able to find out more about myself and my family history, and for me, that makes this the most invaluable experience of a lifetime.
3. Do as much as possible while you’re there.
You’ll hear that you can “sleep when you’re dead,” and to an extent I agree with that. But if you get sick and can’t enjoy your time, you’ll regret it. Get good sleep, eat well, take vitamins, and do your homework.
Once those are done, go adventure! Do some research before you leave home. Make a bucket list of foods you want to try, places you want to go, museums to visit, and monuments you want to see. (A quick note for museums: if you don’t want to look at everything in a museum, seeing as they can be huge, make a list of the most important pieces to see and go to them first, then you can do a double take to see the rest.) Embrace the markets. You can haggle and get better deals on pretty much anything, from boots to food to souvenirs. It will also be a great place for you to work on your use of the language, and even learn some new vocabulary.
Check your school bulletin board for local events and shows. Immersing yourself in the culture means getting involved in the community and attending public events. Frequently, these events will be free to attend and you can always find yummy snacks and pamphlets to read.
Expand your comprehension of the new language. When you’re in a new place with a new language, locals appreciate you trying. Try and use the language as much as possible. This will help you get the most out of your time abroad.
Most of all, have fun! This is your time to explore the world, meet people, and discover new things about yourself. Enjoy the time you have there and make the most of it.