Here are some of the do’s and dont’s of having a successful study abroad experience:
DO research early and carefully think about what you want from your experience.
DON’T pick a location/program just because your friends are doing it. It’s okay to venture off on your own; you’ll be better off if you choose a program that best fits your personal and academic goals.
DO come in with an open mind. Living another country is NOT going to be like your home country. There’s an entirely different culture which means other traditions, customs, languages, etc. that you’ll need to adjust to. If you only focus on the things that are different instead of embracing what’s new and exciting, you’ll feel frustrated. It may take some practice to get yourself into the mindset of, “Oh, that’s how it’s done here? Awesome!” instead of, “I miss the way ______ is done back in the US.” Be curious about differences, don’t condemn them.
DON’T expect every day to be perfect. Many people have the idea that study abroad is one really long, wonderful vacation, but don’t be fooled: study abroad is an emotional rollercoaster. There are going to be a lot of challenges ahead of you, but you’ll be better for having come through them. Be prepared to face culture shock and a potential language barrier, which are both perfectly normal when you’re living in another country. Be prepared to meet new people and see a lot of beautiful things. Be prepared to laugh, cry, and learn a lot about yourself in the process.
DO bring your smart phone (but only if you know how to keep it safe). My iPhone proved to be so useful whenever I had wi-fi, whether it was for looking up directions, keeping in touch with friends and family, or sending e-mails on the go.
DON’T be attached to your phone or computer. Study abroad is a time to disconnect from technology and live in the moment. Focus on what’s going on around you, not back at home. Don’t worry about live-Tweeting your experience or Instagram-ing everything – your friends will know you’re having a blast without having to see constant proof. Not feeling the need to be connected 24/7 is a wonderful feeling.
DO keep a blog, even if you’re not the blogging type. You’ll be glad you did when the experience is over and you have something to look back on when you’re feeling nostalgic. Why blogs over diaries? You can easily share your stories with friends and family, as well as inspire others to travel too.
DON’T be afraid to take chances and step outside of your comfort zone even more. If it’s something you normally wouldn’t do at home, that’s further incentive to do it. Say yes more often than no — but don’t do anything you don’t absolutely feel comfortable doing.
DO go to class now and then. You paid all that money for classes, some of which are probably not available at your home university, so why not learn something new?
DON’T let academics overwhelm you and control your experience. Find a balance between maintaining academics and not killing yourself over papers and grades. You shouldn’t have to pull any all-nighters (unless you really didn’t do anything all semester and suddenly you have a term paper due!).
DO make an effort to meet locals. Join an intercambio (language exchange), student clubs/organizations, sports teams, etc. It’s important to immerse yourself in the local culture and student life, and branch out of the “American bubble.” Plus you’ll have contacts when you decide to return for a future visit (which you will, of course).
DON’T cram in as much weekend traveling as you can. You’ll get physically exhausted if you’re constantly on the go, and seeing your bank account will make you cry. You can always make another trip to other cities later on, but this is a chance to really get to know your host country and take advantage of all the cultural activities and events available to you.
DO practice a foreign language whenever you can. You’ll be amazed by how quickly you can pick up on or improve on a language just by being surrounded by it all the time and using it in a real-life context. Don’t let this stop once study abroad ends; you can lose your new-found abilities almost as quickly as you gained them if you don’t continue to practice at home.
Any more do’s and don’ts? Leave me a comment!