If you’ve found this article, you’re probably thinking of studying abroad at some point or have studied abroad and are looking to see if I know what I’m talking about. I may only be a self-proclaimed expert of studying abroad, but I can guarantee that I’ll be honest with you.
Studying abroad has become extremely popular in the past decade. People still spent time studying in other countries before then, but the rise of the Internet and social media has made it much more commonplace. The world is shrinking, and programs such as studying abroad are helping it shrink. Lots of colleges and universities offer study abroad programs within the school itself, which can make studying abroad a million times easier. Here are some of the top schools in the U.S. for studying abroad, with Pepperdine University in Malibu clenching the most beautiful spot.
For those of you who don’t go to one of these universities, studying abroad is still a very feasible possibility. The only catch is that it may be more difficult to coordinate. But where there’s a will, there’s a way, and I can guarantee that if you want to study abroad badly enough, you’ll find a way to make it happen.
Before you book your tickets and head away to a foreign land to live and study, there are some important things to know ahead of time. Lots of focus is on the excitement of traveling and being in a new country but there are lots of things to think about.
BEFORE YOU GO
It Doesn’t Have to be Expensive
Lots of people think that living and studying in another country is extremely expensive. It can be cheap or expensive, depending on the way you live and the place you live. Studying in the U.K. is going to be expensive no matter what, whereas Mexico likely won’t be as expensive. You can spend as much or as little money as you want to.
Choose Your Country Wisely
The most important part about studying abroad is, well, deciding where you want to study (duh). There are tons of reasons to choose a location. Comprehension of the language, familiarity with the culture, proximity to an airport, and the cost of living are all common reasons. I chose to study in Heidelberg, Germany, because it was one of the locations that my university offered. I could have gone to Switzerland, England, Shanghai, Buenos Aires, or Florence, but I was hooked on Germany. I’m half German and had had the opportunity to visit Heidelberg the year before, so I knew that I liked it there.
When deciding where to study, don’t forget to account for the cost of living. If you have to find and rent a place on your own, it’s crucial to think about how much it will cost you to live there, not to mention other things like groceries and utilities. Lots of people are drawn to Europe for its charm and allure but don’t limit your options just because everyone else goes there. Everywhere is a possibility and do lots of research before settling on a location.
Above all, choosing the place that you want to study is the most important. Go with what feels right with you so that you don’t find yourself halfway through a year that’s making you miserable.
Learn the Language
Learning languages is hard. It always blows my mind how some people are fluent in lots of languages and switch between them easily. I speak four languages, only two of which are fluent, but it’s really difficult to learn a new language. When I was getting ready to move to Germany, I took a semester of German to prepare me for the move. It was not easy.
Even though learning German was hard, I learned so much more after I moved to Germany and began using it on a daily basis in everyday life. I cannot stress enough the importance of speaking the language of your host country. It doesn’t matter if you butcher the pronunciation or if you can barely form a sentence. The locals will be so appreciative of your willingness to try to speak their language and will most likely treat you better. When in Rome, do as the Romans do and try to fit in.
Some helpful language learning sites are Duolingo and Rosetta Stone. Rosetta Stone costs, but is a very comprehensive teaching system that is designed to make you fluent. Duolingo can be downloaded on your phone and is free. I like it because it’s simple and teaches you useful terms to get you on your feet with the language.
If there is one tip that can be found on every packing or traveling article, it’s to NOT overpack. So I’m going to do my part in continuing that trend and tell you, “DON’T OVERPACK”. A good rule of thumb is to take everything you are planning on taking, and divide that in half. You won’t need everything you think you do. There will be so many cool souvenirs and things you want to buy once you arrive. In addition, you can get a feel for the local style and trends when you arrive, and I can guarantee you that other countries have shampoo and conditioner too, so don’t stress.
Make Sure Your Classes Transfer
Schools around the world unfortunately don’t have classes that transfer everywhere else. It would make studying abroad a million times easier but for now we are stuck trying to juggle units and classes. Make sure that the classes you take while abroad will transfer over to your main school so that you don’t waste any money or time taking extraneous classes. If you have the opportunity to choose how many classes you have, try to stack them so that you can have extra-long weekends for more traveling.
ONCE YOU GET THERE
Document Your Time Abroad
Everything is documented in the 21st century. Social media makes it a million times easier to tell the world about what you’re doing at every single moment, whether they want to know it or not. While studying abroad, take advantage of that and document your time so that you can remember it in years to come. These are some of the common ways that people have documented travels.
- Instagram (Gotta keep that Insta game strong)
The possibilities are truly endless and the best solution is to choose whatever works the best for you. I started a blog (the one you’re reading right now, thanks!) and also brought my Insta game to a whole new level, plus kept a journal and a scrapbook. It admittedly wore me out a little bit, but I enjoyed doing it all. It doesn’t matter how you preserve your memories, just make sure you do. I’ve heard so many people admit to me that they wish they had kept a journal or scrapbook or something while they were abroad. I sympathize with them before thinking to myself it’s a good thing I documented everything about my time abroad.
Make New Friends
Friends can make or break a place. If you’re fortunate, your study abroad program will help you integrate into the school and you can meet new people through them. If not, then make friends organically. I promise you it’s easier than you think and these could be some of your best friends that you keep for the rest of your life. I met one of my closest friends while studying abroad and she’s even got a spot in my bridal party at my wedding.
Travel as Much as You Can
This one should be a no-brainer, but I’ve met way too many people who studied abroad and only traveled a little bit. Although it’s important to immerse yourself in the culture of wherever you study, you need to travel. If not, then why are you studying abroad?? I pride myself because I traveled every weekend that I could. Literally every single weekend. My advisor told me I shouldn’t because I would get burned out. I completely disregarded him and traveled every weekend and had an absolute blast. I didn’t want to look back at my time abroad and think, “Gee, I should have traveled more and not napped as much.” Instead, I look back and think, “Gee, I hardly slept at all it’s amazing I even had energy to travel.” Just go and travel because as Drake famously said, “You Only Live Once.”
Things Won’t Go as Planned
I hate to break it to you, but there will be times when your travel plans hit the fan and everything that can go wrong will go wrong. It’s just the name of the game. So have a plan A, B, C, D, E, and F everything. Future you will thank current you. I didn’t plan to have my backpack stolen from me in Hungary, and I may have had a public meltdown on a train as a result, but it wasn’t the end of the world. I had to learn how to deal with the worst-case scenario and I emerged from it as a wiser person.
Studying Abroad Won’t Be Easy
Is studying abroad worth it? Yes. Is studying abroad the best time of your life? Yes. Is studying abroad sometimes strenuous and exhausting? Also yes. You will look back on some of your abroad memories as the best times of your life, but it won’t be without its difficult moments. There’s a good chance you’ll get homesick or even outright sick and maybe wish you weren’t so far from home. That’s completely normal and thinking that way doesn’t make you a bad student. It’s just part of the process.
It’s called studying abroad for a reason – you’re there to study. But it’s also abroad for a reason – you’re there to live it up in a foreign country. So make the most of your time there. Stay out partying until 4 in the morning. Wake up at 4 in the morning so you can catch a cheap Ryanair flight to an exotic location. For that matter, stay out partying all night and then catch your Ryanair flight. Say yes to your new friends and go on that adventure, even if you have a paper that you have to write. Order new things on the menu, because how else will you find new foods that you like? Become a regular at a local coffee shop. Wander around your new home and absorb as much of it as possible. Do the crazy and reckless things because your time abroad will be over before you know it.
ONCE YOU RETURN HOME
Most People Won’t Care
This point hurts me the most to talk about. But the sad truth is that a lot of people don’t care to hear about your time abroad because they’re jealous. And when people do ask how studying abroad was, they usually just want to hear you say “good” and then move on to the next topic. It sucks. You’ve just come back from living in a foreign country and have learned so much about other people and cultures that you’re bursting to share your knowledge with the world.
That being said, don’t be afraid to bring up your adventures. Nobody will really mind as long as you’re not shoving your memories down their throats. You will undoubtedly say things like, ‘when I went skydiving in Dubai’ or ‘that one time at Oktoberfest’ and it’s okay to do so! Those memories are as much a part of you as those memories that people made back at home so don’t be afraid to talk about them. I just want you to be aware that not everybody will receive it well. It’s a sad truth that makes you want to have them go out and experience the world like you did. Studying abroad is an incredible time in your life and I can guarantee it will change you for the better!
Don’t Forget Your Amazing Memories
Sometimes, the reverse culture shock can be more shocking than when you arrived in a foreign country. Your home now feels foreign to you and it’s likely that you’ll be viewing your home through a new perspective. Embrace your differences. You’re the same person with a new view of the world and that should be celebrated!