How to Make the Most of Your Study Abroad Experience

Written by  January 18, 2013
Five things worth knowing before you depart.

For many people, studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. That’s why I consider myself so lucky that after finishing up my first term overseas, I still have another three and a half more years of studying abroad to go. I’ll still have the chance to do that things that I would’ve, could’ve, should’ve done to make the most of this dream experience that others spending just a semester or two wouldn’t have.

Thus, here are five things I wish I knew before I left for my first term overseas:

1) Take advantage of your study abroad experience by participating in extracurriculars.

Obvious enough. Do all the things that you wouldn’t be able to do at home—after all, isn’t trying new things one of the reasons why you decided to study abroad in the first place?

Don’t be afraid to take extra classes and join societies that aren’t available to you at home; trust me; it’s totally worth joining the “blind waste tasting society” even though it may seem a bit pretentious at first! Immerse yourself in your new university life because although it is called study abroad, it’s not just about studying!

2) Immerse yourself in the local culture.

Yes, while it is important to immerse yourself into the university culture, don’t forget to explore your new city/town as well. It’s easy to get stuck in the university bubble and this is especially true in so-called “small university towns,” where there’s definitely more to local life than just student life.

This means two things: 1) Don’t be afraid to befriend a local, get involved with the local community and participate in local traditions. 2) Instead of jetting off to Paris or Berlin or Dublin every weekend, why not take the time to explore and see what local sights are on offer? Take advantage of the opportunity to really get a deep understanding of a foreign culture.

3) Culture swap.

In addition to experiencing a foreign culture, you can also share your culture with the locals. This is especially relevant if you’re a native English speaker studying abroad in a non-English speaking country—go to language swaps to help others (and help yourself as well).

Furthermore, the great thing about studying abroad is that you not only meet students from your host country, but you also meet study abroad students from all around the world as well, so make the most of the smorgasbord of cultures available to you.

4) Document your time abroad.

If this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, you’d obviously want to remember every little detail! After all, it’s those little things that made your trip so worthwhile.

If you’re not into keeping a journal, try writing a blog or making a vlog instead—it’s also a great way to share your experiences with friends and family back home! Or maybe scrapbooking is more your style – you can fill a book with ticket stubs, postcards, receipts, etc. from all the places you frequented during your time abroad! Trust me, you’ll really appreciate having documented your study abroad experience a few years down the road, when you can read and relive those fond memories.

5) Be bold.

This is really the best piece of advice I can give, and it can also be rephrased as “just do it.” There are so many things I regret not doing for reasons that, in retrospect, don’t seem very logical; yes it’s something that I’ve never done before, but the important thing to remember is who knows when I might get to do something like this again?

Be daring, be fearless, be bold when presented with opportunities during your study abroad experience.

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Susan Chan

Susan Chan is doing what many recent high school graduates do—pursuing post-secondary education. However, in doing so, she moved “across the pond” from Canada to England. She hopes to satisfy her self-proclaimed “infinite wanderlust” as she does her undergraduate studies at the University of Cambridge. To read more, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter @_susanchan.

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