A lot of students decide to spend a summer, semester, or even an entire year studying abroad. Many students do a foreign exchange program through their home university; others travel with a private company.
Studying abroad can be a wonderful learning experience. I spent a summer abroad in Costa Rica when I was 19. While abroad, I learned a new language and a new culture, among other countless things I learned about myself as a person.
If you are planning to study abroad, try to keep the following tips in mind in order to get the very most out of your experience.
Try everything. Maybe you prefer to eat every meal at an American restaurant when you are living in the U.S. But part of studying abroad is broadening your horizons. So try to experience something new every day you are abroad. Eat the local cuisine, go to a local musical performance, learn a dance that is popular in your host country, or spend a day exploring the city.
Don’t worry about the small things. So what if you are learning a new language and mispronounce new words. It’s not a big deal. It’s also not a big deal if your clothing isn’t exactly up to local style standards. Don’t waste your time worry about the small ways you stick out while living abroad. You are going abroad to learn about another culture, and learning is a long process. If you make a small social mistake, apologize, learn from it, and move on.
Reserve judgment. There are going to be some things that are very different in your host country than in the U.S. Try not to jump to conclusions. Just because something is different from what you are used to does not make it bad; it’s just different. So stay open to new opportunities and experiences. I promise you will learn something, even if all you learn is that you like American customs way better.
Learn, and teach! Yes, your main goal while studying abroad is to learn something new. But you can also teach others. When I lived in Costa Rica, my host family did not know anything about my home state, Oklahoma. One day, I pulled out a map of Oklahoma and pointed out my hometown, my university, and other areas of interest. It was a small thing to me, but it was important to them because it gave them an opportunity to learn something new. Maybe you won’t be giving geography lessons, but you can share your own knowledge with others, which is often a fun experience for both parties.
Studying abroad isn’t for everyone. But if you think it might be for you, do your research before you go. Pick a program in a country that is appealing to you and will also benefit your education goals. There are also many scholarships for students who want to study abroad, so check those out before you sign up.
If you’ve already decided to study abroad, talk to other students who have lived in the country you plan to visit. Chances are you will gain some insider information that will help during your stay. You might also make some new friends, which is never a bad thing!