Beyond College: 6 Ways to Make the Most of a Study Abroad Experience

Guest post by Chelsea Monroe. Originally published October 2013, online student newsletter.

In the 1947 Christmas movie Miracle on 34th Street, Kris Kringle gives his young friend Susan an incredible gift by introducing her to her imagination. “You’ve heard of the French or the British nations. Well, this is the Imagine-Nation. It’s a wonderful place.” He broadens her perspective to the joy of new experiences simply by taking her to a new place, even if only in her mind. This is also the gift you give yourself when you travel to a new place. While traveling in itself is an incredible learning opportunity, studying abroad has its own unique joys and challenges. These are just a few ideas on how to avoid some common pitfalls that can keep you from fully embracing where you are and help you make the most of your study abroad experience!

1. Plan. Plan again. Then throw the plan out the window. 
This is definitely a top-ten travel rule for me. It’s good to plan and at times it’s imperative that you do (think of arriving in a tiny town at night, not having any hotel reservations. Been there, done that, but didn’t get the t-shirt because the shop wasn’t open), but being so bound to your plan that you don’t have any flex room will often turn you into an exhausted grump with tunnel-vision. In some situations however, it may even be perfectly fine to go without plans. In most big cities, the likelihood of getting stuck without a place to stay is pretty small. But whatever your plans, or lack thereof, count on delays you didn’t anticipate, buses you miss and unexpected treasures you’ll want to stop for. If it’s not something tied to a reservation or regarding safety, then don’t tie yourself irrevocably to the almighty plan. Always leave yourself extra time and patience (read about how to get some extra patience in tip #6).

2. Choose people over places.
This may be a personal preference, but the biggest highlights of any trip for me almost always revolve around the people I interact with. When given the choice between cramming in another touristy site or simply having breakfast with our host family, spending time with friends will almost always create a more meaningful memory. What I try to remember is that people have eternal value. Monuments don’t.   There is also a flip-side to this concept though. If there a lot of sites you really want to see somewhere, consider not staying with friends there, so that you don’t have to feel obligated to spend a certain amount of time with them. You won’t get catered to in a hotel the way you would in a home, but you also have the freedom to come and go whenever you’d like.

3. Don’t leave your study skills at home!
Most study abroad programs have some amount of free time for you to travel wherever you’d like in addition to wherever you are staying for the schooling and where they might take you on field trips. However, your time studying, no matter how the semester is setup, will inevitably seem too short and full of distractions. I’m not just talking about the typical online culprits either. I’m talking about genuine cultural experiences with classmates waiting for you right outside the door. My advice is that you put into full use the study skills you’ve learned from College Plus to make the most of your study time so that you can in turn make the most of your short time abroad. You don’t want to put school on the back burner, because it is why you’re there. But you also don’t want to miss those experiences that will make your studies come alive because you were stuck writing a paper.

Are you considering study abroad? Let me know! Meanwhile, stay tuned for part II of Chelsea’s article!

Image: “suitcases at the Brooklyn Flea” by Kristen Taylor, CC