It has been a little over a year now since I took the first step off the ledge of uncertainty and embarked upon one of my MOST life changing experiences. A year later, I can look back on my “expatriation experience”, as I like to call it, and give practical advice to all the study abroad newbie’s. As the school term winds down, those planning a summer study abroad are no doubt wondering what exactly to expect from their upcoming journey. Take it from me, expect the unexpected. Whatever you expect will happen, expect it not to happen. That’s not said to scare you off and demand a refund from your program provider, but simply to encourage you to be alert and aware that study abroad will be like nothing you have experienced. Realize that living in a foreign country is one of the strangest, yet rewarding, things you could ever do. Outside of the excitement, nervousness, and warranted anticipation of living and studying in a totally foreign country (not to mention the bragging rights you will earn after coming back home as a bona fide globe trotter), there are some real things you should take into consideration before leaving the comforts of you home. There was so much that I, or people I know, experienced due to lack of research, knowledge, and common sense (or a combination of all three). To save you from the heartache that we experienced I have compiled a top ten list of the dos and don’ts while studying abroad, some of these you haven’t thought about, some you may have heard thousands of times, all still practical.
10. Do Bring Home Souvenirs.
Friends and family couldn’t be there, share your experience with something sentimental. And yes “all I got was this lousy keychain” key chains are still unacceptable. Do what you can within your budget, but bring something to share your experience with friends and family when you get home.
9. Do Follow Airport Carry-On Guidelines
This can get quite costly when your expensive toiletries, colognes and hair products, etc., get thrown away. This one is pretty simple. Travel size is usually the way to go.
8. Do Take Pictures or Keep a Study Abroad Blog
You want these memories for a lifetime. Having pictures or written words to jog your memory of a particular event will make sure the experiences stay with you forever.
7. Do Pack Light
Of course you need all FOUR of those 30” suitcases. You never know when you are going to have to change two, three, or four times a day. However, I must say you will regret it at the airport! Not only will it take you forever to get from point A to B, but all that extra luggage will hurt your back and your wallet. Airport baggage fees are no joke.
6. Do Spend Lots of Time Interacting with the Locals
Whether it’s your host family, the lady selling baked goods on your way to class, or a random girl/guy you met who has suddenly become essential to “breaking down the language barrier”, do interact, do talk and do be open minded. You will never get the opportunity to be in that same city with the same group of people ever again. Take advantage. You never know what you will learn or what someone can learn from you.
Note: Use common sense when communicating with strangers, they can “smell” foreigners from blocks away and could try to take advantage.
5. Don’t Leave Valuables Unattended
I’m sure this is an old one, but you would be surprised at how careless we can be especially when you’ve been to [insert favorite club, restaurant, or hangout spot] a thousand times. Take your eyes away from your belongings for a second and you could regret it. Leave important documents (e.g. passports) at homestays or dormitories if it’s not required to have them when you’re out and about. Program bank telephone numbers into your phones for quick access in emergencies.
4. Don’t Neglect Your Host City
I know personally how easy it can be to get sidetracked when you can take cheap flights away from your host city for the weekend. However, don’t forget what made you choose the city you came to. Foreign destinations offer plenty that you don’t have back in your state or city, so take advantage of it while you’re there. Of course I’m not discouraging travel, but ask the locals about fun things right in your home city, I’m sure there are plenty of things you might be overlooking.
3. Do Stay Healthy
Another ”do” I know from personal experience. There is nothing more fun, than laying in bed for a week doped on six different medications and missing out on….life! Es no bueno, trust me. Eat right, dress for the season not the weather and exercise when possible. If you are doing all these things, then here is where the common sense kicks in, make sure to use umbrellas in the rain and coats in the cold. Your body is already adapting to a new environment, make the transition easier by feeding it right and protecting it against the elements. Make every day count!
2. Do Keep Social Networking in Check
Sure all your friends from home may begin to panic because you have not updated your status in a week, but this is your experience! Don’t miss out on it by constantly reaching for what you left behind. Check in, let them know you’re not dead and then log off! Continuous nostalgia for home life is a sure way to make the homesick sicker. Find a new way to occupy your time while abroad; you’ll appreciate the “me time” later.
1. Do Try New Foods
I’m a foodie so this is at the top of the list for me. You can have all the McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell and whatever else you can think of polluting your body with when you get back home. But now you’re a foreigner and you have to eat like one! Be experimental, open minded and daring.
So ok there are more dos than don’ts but that’s only because there are very few if any wrongs when abroad, besides the things that could really taint your experience say financial issues (No. 5) or health issues (No. 3). Nonetheless, everyone’s experience will be different but an open mind and a little common sense will make your trip truly unforgettable.