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7 Tips for Managing Your Academic Classes Abroad

by Patrick Bouthillette
College students studying | AIFS Study Abroad

You’ve packed your bags full of stylish Instagram-worthy clothes, you’ve said goodbye to all your family and friends, and you’re now ready for the study abroad trip of a lifetime. Well, what about that funny word “study” in front of abroad? You will be taking classes, after all.

As a recent study abroad student, I understand that classes and school work might be one of the further things from your mind. Truthfully, academics was what I was looking forward to least when I was preparing for my trip. But it doesn’t have to be all negative — you should embrace your new classes, professors and the material that you’re going to be introduced to.

I know it may sound easier said than done, but as a past study abroad student I will give you a few helpful tips to make the most out of your classes abroad.

1. Get to Know Your Professors

One of the best things you can do is to get to know who your professors are. Professors at your abroad institution are so excited to meet you, and not just teach you lessons about your host city and country, but also to hear from you about life in America and what it’s like to be a young person from the United States.

Build connections with your professors through asking questions and participating and you will be amazed at how much more you will get out of your classes. Oftentimes, the classes that professors teach are something they are passionate about and they are excited to share the content with you. You signed up for these classes so why not get the most out of them!

Also your professors are locals! Ask them for restaurant recommendations, best museums to see or weekend activities. One of my favorite professors abroad supplied us with a list of the best restaurants and gelato shops in Florence and made sure we all took note of them. When we visited his recommendations, we were blown away with the freshness and authenticity of the food! Remember this tip and I promise you will thank me later!

2. Go on All School-Provided Trips

Whether it be for one of your classes or the whole institution, if there is a provided trip, go on it! These trips are a way to be fully immersed into your host city or country’s culture. It is usually led by either a faculty member or a paid tour guide and provides you with information you likely never would have known without them.

During my time abroad I went to a local food market. I tried pasta and desserts I never would have if my professor did not buy them. They ended up being some of my favorite foods while in Florence. My friends and I even made plans to go back and get the same foods we tried earlier!

Another example is a weekend trip to Venice. We were able to go to multiple museums that I never would have thought to have visited, and I am so glad we did. We even got to spend our time there during the weekend of Carnevale, which was an incredible experience.

3. Plan Weekend Trips Ahead of Time

Of course you can be spontaneous and in the moment while you’re abroad — and if you book trips at the last moment it won’t be the end of the world — but something that worked for me was knowing that I would be gone most weekends from Thursday afternoon to Sunday night, so I knew to get my work done for Monday and Tuesday ahead of time!

It is helpful to stay organized and on top of your deadlines so you are not stressing out on a Sunday night in Portugal about a research paper outline you have due Monday morning. If you know anything about studying abroad then you know things do not always go as planned, so have a rough outline of the weekends you may go away. I suggest a planner filled with important dates for your schoolwork and you will be all set for your semester!

4. Bring School Material With You On Weekend Trips

Okay, so you don’t have to bring everything on your weekend trip, but bringing your laptop for homework that’s due or packing a few pages of notes for an upcoming exam might be helpful.

While traveling, there is usually some downtime, like when you’re waiting for a connecting flight or during long hours of bus rides (if you choose to do weekend bus trips). The thrilling idea of taking planes, trains and buses while traveling can lose its appeal after you’ve got a few weekend trips under your belt, so it’s good to have some work that will keep you from turning into a bored, stressed, hangry monster who makes traveling rough for everyone involved (sorry about that, my Spring 2020 travel friends!).

5. Talk with Alumni, Including Alumni Ambassadors

These people have been through it before, have loved their experience, and would be more than happy to answer any question you have.

I remember texting an alumni from college and past AIFS Alumni Ambassador a dozen questions about the school, professors and workload at my abroad university. Use your resources to help you succeed! Everyone who went abroad loves to recount their time away and share any insight they may have that helped them succeed during their time overseas.

6. Find A Study Spot

I got this tip before I left and, let me tell you, this really changed how I thought about studying.

Who can be mad about doing readings or studying for an exam when you’re drinking an espresso while overlooking the Ponte Vecchio? Not me. I often could not wait to get out of class and go to my favorite panino place and study with friends. Even though studying may not be the most exciting part of being abroad, by finding a study spot, you will make your new city feel more like home and you will feel less like a tourist!

7. Make Time For Yourself

As students we often view study abroad as a way to escape the craziness of American college life and to get a new perspective. So remember that! Don’t overwork yourself. Take time to study, of course, but also remember you’re there to experience the city you chose to live in.

Going to museums, trying new foods, taking part in new cultural activities all are just as important as studying, so make sure to not get overwhelmed with doing work. Dedicate time to classes while abroad, but make sure it does not consume your life! Give yourself breaks and allow yourself to enjoy every single moment!

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