Two years ago, I departed for the best four months of my life which I spent studying abroad in London. Being the first of my friends to go abroad, I went with little advice or guidance from anyone. I had to pave the path myself, making plenty of mistakes (which isn’t a bad thing) and learning lots from them.
So from me – a veteran study abroader – to you – perhaps you’re the guinea pig like I was – here are tips to help you thrive while abroad.
Don’t be scared
Everyone says studying abroad is the best thing to do in college (and they’re right), but no one talks about how scary it is to leave. The night before I left for London, I was so terrified; I regretted everything. What was I thinking, going to a place 4,000 miles from home, literally a world away? I was never more scared in my life. I felt so vulnerable and alone.
After some time in my new home, I learned that being scared is ok. In fact, being scared is good because you learn and grow from it. Fear breaks you down and exposes who you truly are when your guard is down. It is when you are at your most vulnerable that you understand your identity. And then fear builds you back up. Once you accept yourself, you begin growing into a better person because you understand your true self.
Looking back at my unforgettable time abroad, I had absolutely no reason to be nervous. I made new best friends, found a second home across the sea, discovered the beauty of the world and became a better person.
So don’t be scared – I promise you will be fine. But if you are, it’s very ok to be.
It’s ok if you don’t make friends
Studying abroad is like freshman year of college but less awkward. You have to settle into a new life, adjust to a different culture and create social circles. Understand that making new friends takes time. Don’t expect to make unbreakable connections with your flatmates the moment you meet. You might be lonely for a while, but I’m sure you will find a community.
If you don’t make friends, that’s ok too. It’s not easy jumping into a new life in a new culture and making connections. Instead, make your time abroad about you. Like being scared, being in a different culture shows you who you really are when you’re away from things that usually define you. Use the time to learn about yourself, love yourself and become a better person.
Don’t study too hard!
Yes, you’re there to *study* abroad, but hear me out. You can study in any city in the world (namely, the city your home university is in). But you only get to study abroad once. If you have the choice to go on an adventure or work on a paper, pick the adventures. That’s what you’re going to remember, those experiences unique to the location you’re in, not sitting inside studying.
Write down everything
Buy yourself a pretty journal and record everything as frequently as possible – write what you do and what you think and how things make you feel. This is, in my opinion, the best way to record and remember your experiences. These days, I relive my London experiences my reading my journal (while sobbing but it’s fine). It’s also really neat to look back on how you’ve changed while living and growing in a new place.
Take as many pics as possible
Like writing, take as many pictures as you can. Pictures visualize and bring back memories in ways writing cannot. They’re another great reminder of your experiences. However, don’t focus too much on your camera. Make sure you actually take time live in a moment before you capture it. Though Instagram may portray it otherwise, you’re abroad for the experiences, not for the likes.
While you’re out, make sure you embrace the culture. A big part of learning (not always academic) comes from experiencing a different way of life. You’re getting an education from the world that is impossible learn in a classroom.
Spend your money
Don’t be afraid to spend money if you have the capabilities. Yes, money is tight as a student and even tighter for a student abroad, but this is your only opportunity to do what you are doing. Spending money on fun experiences like skydiving, a guided hike or a boat tour is more valuable than any object you can buy.
Treasure every moment
Value every single second of your time abroad and don’t take it for granted. Do not waste time on social media or Netflix. See everything you can possibly see. If you’re debating if you should do something, similar to the above point, just do it, because when is the next time you’ll be able to do it? This is literally probably the only time in your life when you life in a foreign country for this long, so make the most of every opportunity.
Don’t come home
Finally, be warned – the worst part about studying abroad is returning home. You’re going to leave with a sense of wonder that will never be satisfied. So try not to come back 😉
Cover photo by Souvenirs student contributor