Lucky duck that I am, I had the fortune to study abroad multiple times in college. My first time studying abroad in Florence, Italy, was a learning experience. When I decided to study abroad again in Thailand, I was able to take a lot from my first experience to make sure I picked a program better suited to my personal study abroad style. I was also able to do some things I’d wished I had done before, and avoid doing some things I had wished I hadn’t done.
Even still, now that I am a few years out of college and into the “real world,” I can look back on my study abroad experiences with a new perspective and see even more things I wish I had done a little bit differently. Becoming more involved in my host community and immersed in the host culture and language were two big stand-outs, but there a number of things that I now realize I could have done to really maximize my study abroad experience.
I definitely wouldn’t say I have any regrets, but here is my best study abroad advice. Read on for the 25 things I wish I had done differently when I studied abroad:
- Researched programs extensively. I took at face value the list of options my Study Abroad Office gave me, and I wish I had looked at a site like Go Overseas to compare options and read reviews from program alumni. I would’ve put in the extra legwork to get papers signed and credits transferred so I could do the study abroad program that best suited my academic goals.
- Reflected more on what I wanted from my program provider. I found that I preferred a more integrated, hands-off (and cheaper!) program, which was not what my first study abroad experience was at all. Knowing what you want from your program from the start will make things go a lot smoother.
- Gotten more involved in my host community. I didn’t try to seek out volunteer orinternship opportunities — or even extracurricular sports or interest groups — and I really wish I had. This is an important part of becoming immersed in the culture and feeling like your host city is really like a home.
- Pushed myself to improve my language skills. It’s so easy to fall back on English, especially if you’re living with other study-abroaders. I wish I had tried harder to live completely in another language and to make the most of my language learning while abroad. Furthermore, I wish I had continued to practice my language skill when I returned home.
- Studied somewhere offbeat. Italy was great, but it is one of the most popular study abroad destinations. Thailand was an improvement, but I sometimes wish I had pushed myself to go somewhere even more unique or off-the-beaten path, somewhere that makes people go, “You studied WHERE?” when I tell them about it. A strange, little-known country, or even just a really small, out-of-the-way town. Maybe even somewhere a little intimidating, where I would be constantly challenged.
- Stayed longer. One semester is great, but what a difference one year could make. A semester flies by, but I think you could really call a place home, and really see a change in yourself, after you’ve lived abroad a year.
- Made more local friends. The less integrated the school, the more effort required to meet locals. I interacted more with other Americans and foreign students than those from my host cities, and now I regret not having more of those connections. . . .