No one says, “If only I hadn’t traveled.” Regret may be too strong of a word, but when study abroad alumni were asked, “What is one thing you would have done differently while studying abroad?” several answers came up time and time again. Find out what they were and learn from the mistakes of fellow world travelers, who although they loved every minute, knew things could have been even better.
1. I should have let loose earlier.
Many people said they stayed in their comfort zone for too long. Many built surrogate homes, only ventured within a few blocks of their housing, or shopped at the same place everyday. Many study abroad alumni said that they did eventually break out of their shell and that is when the real experience began.
2. I wish I hadn’t lived with someone I knew and roomed with a stranger.
Many people study abroad with people they know. Resist the urge to build your life together. Having a contact in your new home will be fantastic, but meeting new people will be even better.
3. I didn’t spend enough time with my host family.
Studying abroad is anything but boring. There are plenty of activities; new sites, tastes, places to see, and people to meet are everywhere. While this is sort of the point, many people ended up flying from one thing to the next the whole time. Alumni sited not spending enough time with their host family as a regret.
Those little moments at home can be just as great as the out-and-about part and often create some of the best memories, so take time to make the most of your homestay while abroad. People who didn’t make this mistake still talk to their host families, plan on visiting them, and felt very comfortable during their time abroad. Also, homestays often include meals which may be eaten with the family. This results in some of the best language practice you can get not to mention delicious meals and inside jokes.
4. I thought about home quite a bit and pictured everyone exactly the same.
Something that makes time abroad difficult and returning even harder is not just thinking about home, but HOW you think about home. Many students say that a major issue was envisioning home exactly as they had left it. They pictured friends in the same booth, ordering the same meals, dating the same people, and listening to the same music. The truth is their life is moving along just like yours. If you picture dropping back into life just as you left it, you are setting yourself up for a rude awakening and some serious reverse culture shock.
5. I had the best intentions, but didn’t take enough pictures or record anything.
Intentions are about as useful as a square wheel. So many students start a journal or create a blog only to come home with two entries. Taking just a little time to record your experiences will be priceless after you return home. So much is happening; it will be hard to keep it all straight.
Take just a 10 to 15 minutes a day or every few days to say a little about how you are feeling, a person you met, or place you visited. It can also serve as a great resource for future trips! You don’t want to forget the name of that awesome restaurant you found or that tour guide that made the trip.
6. I should have tried harder to learn the language.
This is your chance. It is profoundly easy to cling to every bit of English you can find, whether it’s in a roommate or on the TV. If you’re program is taught in English in a country with a different national language, it is important to put in a little effort. Many programs will include language lessons or groups, so take advantage of them.
Make yourself communicate in the language on the streets and avoid spending time with ONLY fellow English speakers.
7. I didn’t really do anything on campus.
Extracurriculars, clubs, festivals, and other on-campus opportunities will be available. Looking back many people wished they had taken advantage of them. It is such a great way to tailor your experience. Get involved in something you are truly passionate about while surrounded by people from your location of choice! It is also a chance to try something new like playing soccer or dancing salsa.
8. My only regret is that I didn’t stay longer.
This is easily the most popular item. Four months, the length of a typical semester, can seem like such a long time to be away from home initially, but think about your last four months. How fast did they go? How much have you changed or learned? In truth, four months is an incredibly short amount of time that will fly. It may take several weeks to feel at home and adjust to the culture, but after that, staying as long as possible usually becomes the number one concern.