Studying abroad as a college student is considered a rite of passage for some and a really scary potential for others. I chose not to study abroad while I was in college for various reason, part of that being my misunderstanding of what I would have been getting myself into, but I know so many people that studied abroad and every single one of them loved it. So, I decided to ask those women what they would tell someone studying abroad to do, or not to do.
Take a look!
Susan, studied abroad in China
I studied abroad in Beijing, China the summer after my freshman year in university. Looking back now, it was the best decision I could have made for myself. After all, I’ve never gone out of the country before except with my parents for vacation. Studying abroad was a whole new different experience. I definitely made some pretty embarrassing mistakes when I was abroad, so here are five things I wish people told me before I left for Beijing on that one sunny morning in Arizona.
1) Pack lightly. The worst feeling in the world is dragging your overweight luggage through a foreign airport only to realize two months later you only put to good use only half of the stuff in your suitcase.
2) Exchange some currency ahead of time at your local bank. You will want to have some money on hand when you land in the country you’re studying abroad in. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but enough so you can take a taxi or buy something in case of emergencies.
3) Take advantage of public transportation. At least in Beijing and other major cities in China, the public transit system is incredibly safe, efficient, and affordable. The subway takes you almost anywhere you need to go and the public buses are very reliable.
4) Don’t be afraid to explore nearby cities. I wish I did more of this when I studied abroad. The one time I did I enjoyed it so much I found an internship in that city the next summer just so I can go back. If you’re already in a foreign country, you might as well explore as much of it as you can.
5) Take time for yourself. When people study abroad we tend to stick in groups wherever we go and there is nothing wrong with that, especially for safety reasons. However, sometimes we do forget to spend some quality time alone to recharge. I found that every time I did something by myself, I took on a new appreciation for my surroundings and my friends.
Lynn, studied abroad in Italy
To this day I consider my semester abroad in Reggio Emilia, Italy, one of the best experiences of my life. I’ll admit, I was a little apprehensive about choosing Reggio because it is a very small town, but as soon as I arrived it captured my heart. I had more opportunities to practice my Italian, because contrary to what I was told, not everyone in Europe speaks English. I also felt safe. There were some nights I walked the city with a friend in the dark, and I never felt uncomfortable, unlike when I visited some bigger cities. Flying back to America was the most stressful part of the whole trip, honestly. I chose to fly on the group flight both ways, and the travel agency had only given us a 45-MINUTE LAYOVER in Germany. Friends, this is not the proper amount of time for an international layover. Thankfully I made my flight, but it involved lots of running, a little bit of crying and lots of frustration at people (who didn’t speak English or Italian) not understanding our desperate need to move to the front of the line at passport control. If you are booking your own flights, PLEASE schedule about two hours. And most importantly, take lots of pictures and treasure every moment of your adventure because it will be over before you know it.
Alyssa, studied abroad in England and Scotland
My advice to anyone considering study abroad would first and foremost be to do it. It can be scary to leave your friends and your home, but it’s worth it. For people who have already decided to go abroad, I’d say the most important thing is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. There are going to be times when you commit a cultural faux pas or embarrass yourself with the locals, just try and look at it like a learning experience and move on. For me, I ran into some trouble understanding the thick Scottish accents. I once had to ask my cashier to repeat himself five times before I finally understood what he was saying. Was it humiliating? Yes. But these things are inevitable, especially when dealing with hardcore Scots. I’d also say that you shouldn’t be afraid to be alone. There were times when my friends were busy or had different interests, but I never let that stop me from getting the most out of my experience. As a total history nerd, I took an overnight trip to the highlands to see a famous historical battlefield. Shockingly, no one else was very interested in seeing the field, so I went alone. I was definitely outside of my comfort zone, but I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do, and it ended up being a highlight of my trip. When in doubt, just remember that this experience is about you and what you want to get out of it. Don’t let fear stop you from enjoying it to the fullest.