Feeling unsure about studying abroad? I was in the same boat when I went abroad. The thought of traveling and living in a foreign place can be intimidating, with the fear of not knowing the language, customs, or even how to navigate around. But don’t be afraid, studying abroad will prove to be a life-changing and enriching experience during your college years. Here are some helpful tips to make the transition smoother.
Create a plan to achieve program goals
To maximize the enjoyment of your study abroad experience, it’s best to have a general understanding of what you hope to gain from it. Your list of aspirations doesn’t have to be detailed, but having a clear set of objectives will provide direction if you ever start feeling overwhelmed.
Having a goal-oriented mindset is crucial as it helps prioritize what is truly significant in life and avoid being sidetracked by insignificant matters. By setting achievable yet challenging goals during your time abroad, you’ll be able to have experiences that will leave a lasting impact on your memory.
Build Relationships with Locals
Returning students often report that forming relationships with people from the host country was challenging, but also the most fulfilling part of their study abroad experience. Remember that social norms vary across cultures and the approach to forming and maintaining friendships may differ from your home country. You can try volunteering or participating in local clubs and student organizations to connect with local students and members of the community.
Document Your Experience through Writing
Documenting your study abroad experience through writing can be a valuable way to reflect on your experiences and share them with others. Consider starting a blog, creating a personal website, or using social networking sites to share your stories and photos. Keeping a journal can also provide an opportunity for deeper reflection and personal growth. If you enjoy writing, you may also consider submitting your work to the annual Penn State Education Abroad Writing Contest.
Travel and Explore
Take the opportunity to discover the surroundings, visit attractions, and try new things! But don’t forget the reason why you decided to study in that specific location. Get to know the people in your host community and understand their lifestyles, challenges, and joys. Try to engage with individuals who are not typically part of your study programs, such as the elderly, non-profit organizations, or other local residents. By gaining a deeper understanding of the local community, you will be able to better comprehend what you learn in the classroom.
Show Appreciation Across Cultures
In the US, it is common to show appreciation through gestures like leaving a tip in a restaurant, sending a thank-you card, or giving a compliment. Expressing gratitude in a foreign culture might require a different approach. For example, gift-giving may be a crucial aspect in some cultures. Research and learn about the ways in which people in your host country show appreciation. Proper use of the language, respect for cultural norms, and adherence to established customs can demonstrate your gratitude.
Maximize Your Learning Opportunities
Learning is the main focus of your study abroad program, so make the most of it. Immerse yourself in your coursework and aim to gain as much knowledge as possible. If you’re taking a French language class in France, you want to return home with strong speaking skills, right? This means you should make an effort to study outside of class time as well. Balance your studies with leisure activities, but prioritize your education, as doing so will bring greater satisfaction.
Avoid Homesickness by Staying Active
It’s easy to become homesick if you spend too much time alone in your room talking to friends and family back home. Instead, venture out and explore your new city and country. Engage in activities offered by the school or plan outings with your friends. Embrace new opportunities and remember that you will eventually return home, but your study abroad experience can only be lived in the present moment.
It can be tempting to spend money on attractive souvenirs, dining out, and local crafts, but it is important to remember that you will be in your new location for an extended period of time and your finances need to last. To budget effectively, learn how the local residents eat and shop. Ask your teachers or host family about local prices to avoid paying more for services and transportation. If your visa allows, consider finding part-time work, as this will not only increase your income but also enhance your language skills.