What I Wish I Knew: Advice for Studying Abroad
It’s that time of year again where many university students are wrapping up their Christmas holidays and preparing for a great adventure: studying abroad. I cannot recommend studying abroad highly enough. My semester in London hugely influenced my passion for exploring the world. My semester abroad helped me grow as a person — gain confidence, self-awareness, and invaluable cultural experiences — more than any other period of my college career. Looking back, there are a few things I wish I could tell my younger self and I hope to share them with anyone lucky enough to be embarking on a semester away…
My London flatmates and I on a night out
Buy the Lonely Planet guide
I LOVE LOVE LOVE Lonely Planet guides. Some of the best restaurants, tour companies and hostels I’ve ever experienced have been at the the recommendation of LP. When I was in London I kept my guide with me at all times. I would literally carry it around in my purse so that whenever I had even a free half hour I’d whip out my guide and explore someplace new. I actually made my way through nearly the whole guide by the end of my six months in London. An entire semester abroad may seem like a lifetime at the start, you won’t believe how fast it goes! Downtime is important for sure, but don’t waste your afternoons lounging binge watching Netflix—get out there!
On that note, here’s one of my biggest pieces of advice: don’t be afraid to do things alone.
I’ll say it again: do not be afraid to do things alone.
Being in a totally new place can be pretty intimidating, especially if you haven’t done much traveling before. But waiting around until one of your friends is free or not going someplace because your roommate isn’t interested or can’t afford to go with you is such a waste of your precious time abroad. If you’re nervous about getting lost or not being fluent enough in the local language then start slow. Begin by just venturing around your neighborhood and doing homework at a local cafe or exploring a museum. The more you do it the more confident you’ll be in it!
Take advantage of being able to visit new countries…
…But don’t go away every weekend. If you’re studying abroad in Europe you’ll soon find that traveling from country to country is SO much easier than you might’ve thought. Budget airlines like Ryanair and Easyjet offer extraordinarily affordable flights to major cities in the EU and the Eurail train connects basically all of Europe. Absolutely take advantage of this close proximity to explore as much as you possibly can BUT don’t forget to get to know the city you’re actually living and studying in. There were a few girls on my program in London that went away literally EVERY weekend for the entire semester. I don’t think they really got to know London at all besides the area their flat was in and the neighbourhood our classes were in. I think getting a local’s understanding of a new country is one of the most special parts of studying abroad. Shy of actually moving to a new country, when else are you really going to get the chance to get to know a place so well for such a long time?
Do as the locals do
Sightseeing with my family when they came to visit me
For most students studying abroad is one of the first opportunities to travel long-term without parents. You’re going to stick out like a sore thumb, there’s pretty much no avoiding it– locals can spot a wide-eyed American study-abroader from 100 miles away. If you’re walking around London wearing sorority letters and a baseball cap it’s a pretty safe bet you’re not actually from there. Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t hurt to make an effort to try and adapt to local culture. In Florence, you don’t order a coffee to-go, it’s just not a thing. In Paris, people don’t wear athleisure outfits out to dinner. Americans don’t have the best reputations internationally so it’s not a bad idea to try and be conscious of the fact that everything you do influences not only how people think of you, but also how they think of the country as a whole.
Check out my post ‘5 pieces of packing advice I wish I hadn’t ignored’ here!
Don’t be too stingy with your money
I wish I could go back and tell myself to not worry about money half as much as I did when I was studying abroad in London. I was so scared of running out of money that I didn’t relax and let myself fully enjoy/immerse into experiences for fear that they would cost too much. In many cases, you’re only there once. You can always make more money when you get home but some of the experiences you’ll encounter while abroad will truly be once in a lifetime!
Flatmates and I at Brighton Beach
Say yes to everything! Embrace all the new experiences you possibly can. You’ll grow in so many more ways than you’ll even realize at the time.
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