You're preparing to study in a completely new culture, new country, new world. You're excited, nervous, hopeful, eager and perhaps feeling a bit overwhelmed. You're so ready to get to your destination and you want everything to be perfect.
A successful study abroad experience begins with excellent preparation, superb communication and a little bit of bravery. Let's explore the top 10 study abroad tips that can help you get the most out of your experience.
1. Know the Details and Plan Ahead
As soon as you make the decision to study abroad, get the facts on which documents you'll need to have ready and what you'll need to do beforehand. If possible, speak to someone who has already studied abroad. A prepping checklist may look something like this:
- Pack valid driver's license and passport
- Get immunizations specific for the destination, if required
- Take bed sheets, bath towels or other necessities not provided by the host family or university
- Get medications refilled and purchase extra contact lenses
- Convert currency to have cash on hand
Also, be sure to let your credit or debit card company know in advance that you'll be leaving the country. Give them the exact date range, if possible, for when your cards might be used outside of the U.S. If you're only able to give them the approximate dates, be sure to:
- Factor in a few days of buffer before and after your trip to keep you covered
- Alert them as soon as you know the exact dates of your travel
Few things are more frustrating than trying to buy something and having your credit card declined.
2. Know the Conversion Rates
In some countries, your $5 U.S. dollars may be worth $10 in the local currency, while it may be worth $1 in others. In other words, when you convert your U.S. dollars to another currency, you may be spending less or more on an identical item purchased in the U.S.
Once you know the conversion rate for your destination’s currency, you'll be able to budget more appropriately. Research the cost of food, drinks and transportation in the country where you'll be staying, and compile a tentative budget plan.
3. Pack Smart
You may be tempted to over-pack to make sure that you don't forget anything. While this is a common tendency, packing too much can really bog you down, and it's often more trouble than it's worth.
Imagine you arrive at the airport, only to realize that you'll need to climb and descend three flights of stairs, ride two metros and walk half a mile to get to your pick-up location, all while toting your luggage. If the conversion rate is in your favor, you may even want to purchase toiletry items, some clothing and other necessities once you arrive at your destination.
4. Ask Questions
Ask your host family or university about the local customs and anything else that would be helpful for you to know beforehand.
If you’re staying with a host family, be sure to ask if there are any traditions or rules they'd like you to follow in their home. For instance, in some cultures, it's a sign of respect to slightly bow to your elders or take off your shoes before entering a home.
5. Immerse Yourself
Immerse yourself in the culture to get the full study abroad experience.
Even if you don't feel 100% confident in your ability to speak the native language, challenge yourself. Surround yourself with native speakers and practice with them. You'd be surprised at just how patient and supportive they can be.
When they see that you're putting forth effort to speak their language, learn their customs and understand their way of life, it can open a whole new world of possibilities for you. Who knows, you might just make a new lifelong friend!
6. Stretch Your Taste Buds
Indulge in the local cuisine. Whether you love it or hate it, you won't regret trying it. Each culture brings a unique contribution to the international table. Take advantage of this special opportunity to stretch your taste buds and literally "sink your teeth in."
A word of caution: Many cultures don't understand some U.S. dietary restrictions, such as:
- Specific food allergies
You can minimize confusion or mishaps by familiarizing yourself with the local ingredients and typical dishes of your host country beforehand, and plan accordingly.
7. Step Out of Your Comfort Zone
"Touristy" things can be fun, but there are some things that you can't find on the average tourist agenda. Make new local friends, and spend time exploring the area with them as your guides. You'll likely get to share in hidden gems that tourists don't even know exist.
Don't shy away from opportunities because they are different or seem strange. This can be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to go on new and exciting adventures in your host country. Be safe and responsible, but also be willing to leave your comfort zone.
8. Document Everything
Journal and take pictures — of everything. Your family and friends can share in your joy and experiences through photos of your wanderings.
Journaling often can make for wonderful stories when you return to the U.S. In addition, this provides you with a more accurate record of how you felt at any particular moment while you were abroad.
9. Go to Class
This may go without saying, but don't skip class just because you're in a new, exciting environment. When you're studying abroad, you'll likely have a less structured schedule, but don’t let this trick you into thinking you don’t have responsibilities during the semester.
Remember: When you graduate, your grade point average will reflect your semester abroad, so don’t make mistakes that will negatively impact your future career.
10. Travel Abroad as Often as You Can
After your first study abroad adventure, you'll probably be hooked on international travel. If your course of study allows, plan another semester abroad or look for international volunteer opportunities. You may even find a summer job while you’re studying abroad – take advantage of these opportunities while you can.
With these tips, we hope you’ll feel more prepared and less overwhelmed for your upcoming adventures. For information on staying safe while studying abroad, visit our Student Plans page.