Each and every one of us will come home from our study abroad experiences with a different story. Something I think is extremely important to remember is that your study abroad experience will only be what you make of it. Before I left for my trip abroad, I was never someone that took risks or felt like a leader in group situations, but by the time I arrived home the opposite was true.
I vowed to myself that I would make the most out of my trip by saying yes to different opportunities, even if they were outside my comfort zone. So, here are my top five recommendations on how to make the best of the study abroad experience.
- Build friendships: Make friends with as many people as you can. Depending on your personality type, you may or may not naturally want to introduce yourself to your class mates or fellow students at orientation; however, this is where you need to change that. The most incredible part of my experience was making my international friendships.The people you meet during your experience all influence you in a different way; whether it’s teaching you something about a culture you didn’t know about or cooking you the traditional cuisine of their country, each connection you make abroad will change something for you. Another bonus is knowing that you have a friendly face or place to stay next time you visit Paris or Australia.You will meet people from all over and, most importantly, you will create some of the strongest friendships you will find in your lifetime.
- Try new things: In every new place I visited, I made sure to try their local cuisine. Not only will it be the best place to find quality taste, but you can also say you ate paella over Spain’s ocean side or schnitzel in Germany – all with some of the best people you know.Not only are taste bud adventures important, but also stepping outside your comfort zone and doing something you may not have thought you would do. This will significantly impact the quality of your experience.Travel by yourself, stay at a hostel, go to the event that forces you to meet a bunch of new people and try out your language skills on a local. Each and every experience is worth it.
- Do as many things as you can: No matter what school you attend, there will most likely be program that organizes events and activities to do for exchange students. If you attend school in Europe, a popular program across the continent is the Erasmus Student Network. They plan all kinds of events from student dinners, nights out and cultural events around the city to group trips. If you enjoy the first few events, go to as many as you can. You will get to know the leaders who have most likely studied abroad as well and understand everything you are going through. They are also probably natives to your host country and can share all the best non-touristy places to travel.If your goal is to travel a lot, pack in as many weekends away in as you can. You will never regret doing the things you wanted to do, but you may regret not doing as much as you wanted while you were away.
- Get to know the city you are living in and the host culture: Everyone goes into their study abroad experience wanting to take something different away from it. One thing I came home happy about was how well I knew the city and culture I lived in. It is amazing to say you know a city in a foreign country as if you grew up there – knowing the street names, the best restaurants for every craving, the hidden gems etc. So why not spend your time between classes exploring new neighborhoods or checking out a new coffee shop?Go ahead and befriend the locals that go to school with you or share a meal with a family from the area and ask questions about the culture. Each of these things are only going to globalize you even further and open your eyes and mind to so many new things.
- Don’t be afraid to fall in love: You are going to encounter a million new things when you go abroad and it is okay to love every minute you are away. If you are brave and you take the step to study abroad, you will most definitely be in love with your life at some point. However, each experience you allow yourself to take in will help you to fall in love with different things – fall in love with your classes at the new university; with your new city; a new language; your new friends; and hell, fall in love with a person you connect with well and make the most of every minute.You will always be able to look back on your experience and smile as you remember all of the good things you let into your life.
All in all, when you come home from your experience abroad, you will look at pictures, videos and memories and either be thankful for everything you did or regret not taking some chances you wanted to. So my best advice is to take every chance you can. Try new things, explore and say yes to the cute boy or girl in your class that wants to get coffee.
Who knows, you might find yourself living a Lizzie McGuire moment, riding through the streets of Italy on the back of a Vespa and loving every second!