Ask any college student and you can bet that they have "study abroad" on their bucket list. Going on a study abroad is basically a collegiate right of passage, you either went or you wish you did. There's something magical about giving in to your wanderlust during your college years, and getting to be experiencing education outside of your own backyard.
Or at least that's what I've been told. I haven't had the pleasure of traveling outside the country yet but I am in the process of preparing to study in New Zealand, which has me searching for everything I could possibly need to know about living and getting an education abroad. Luckily, I've gotten advice from friends who have had these experiences first hand and they've shared what they wish they'd known beforehand:
- Most schools take your study abroad credits as pass/fail rather than by letter or number grade, so find out if your school uses that system before you leave. If they do, you can worry a little bit less about totally acing your classes — in a few years' time what will matter is that you had the most amazing time in some other part of the world.
- Be prepared to miss the joys of your homeland a little bit. Figure out what pieces of home you need to stay sane. If you loved going to the gym back home, pick a membership where you're studying so you can enjoy that familiarity.
- No amount of language classes can prepare you for the full immersion experience. It's exhausting to try to communicate basic things to people all day long — and lots and lots of funny mishaps happen. The biggest lesson you can learn is to be really gracious, laugh at your mistakes, and be respectful of the culture.
- It's OK not to go out every night. A lot of people seemed to feel pressure to go to a bar each night, perhaps because they're 20 and the novelty of drinking legally is great.
- Sign up for courses that apply to the place you're in. That way you won't feel like you're wasting time in class or studying, when you'd rather be sightseeing.
- Bring a printed out copy of your passport and an original copy of you birth certificate. Keep it hidden in a separate spot of your bag from your other valuables (and also on dropbox).
- Don't pack so much stuff from home because you will go shopping SO often and then will have to take home double the suitcases or leave clothes behind.
- Do take your favorite toiletries because you will really miss them when you can't find them at the local drug store.
- Be prepared to separate from your cell phone for a while. You may be able to use wifi some places, but it's always smart to have a travel notebook as a backup just in case.
- Make sure you dedicate days/weekends to playing tourist in the city that you're living in! You can get so focused on traveling to other cities that you can forget to become an expert in your own backyard.
- Take advantage of the organized trips your school offers. They're usually cheaper than what you could normally do, and when will you have a chance to go on semi-educational and well-planned out trips like that? They bring more substance than a trip dedicated to partying.
- Take the time to really get to know your host family, you can keep that relationship for much longer than just the semester you're living with them.
- When you go out, take advantage of where you are. Don't spend all your time at an Irish pub if you're studying in Spain, embrace the culture of the country and their unique social scene.
- Travel as often as you can. You can find cheap rates on hostels and transportation, and now is definitely the time since you're so close to so many countries and so much culture. It's amazing how much you can do in cities like Paris, Rome, London, and Barcelona even if you only have the weekend.
- Don't worry if you get lost here and there, that's just part of the experience. If it happens don't freak out (just try your best to have a buddy system going) and you'll be just fine. You may even stumble upon a cute café or bookstore that you never would have found otherwise.