Putting the “Study” Back in Study Abroad

by Rachel Braley

Jawaharial Nehru was an inspirational man who strove for independence and social reform in India during the early 20th century. A fan of traveling, he was once quoted saying,

We live in a wonderful world that is full of beauty, charm and adventure. There is no end to the adventures we can have if only we seek them with our eyes open.
Girl looking at art work in an art gallery

Oh, how right he was.

There is nothing more magical than immersing yourself in a culture that is completely different from your own, and millions of students have seized the opportunity to do so by studying abroad. While not only earning academic credit and taking collegiate-level classes, study abroad students are exposed to a totally new way of life, not to mention objects, people, and sights they have never even dreamed of before.

While exploring and finding out more about yourself in a foreign country is highly encouraged, it is also important to balance the academic responsibilities that come with studying abroad.

How much “studying” are we talking about?

Oftentimes people forget that the “study” in study abroad means just that. Students cannot expect to blow off their classes and then wind up with an A or B average after studying abroad. Although many students choose to study abroad to experience the country and its people, it’s important to be able to study and succeed both inside AND outside the classroom.

Study abroad students can start off on the right foot by choosing their courses wisely.

That being said, it is likewise important that students realize the immense opportunity given to them to study a given subject abroad in practice, extensively.

Choose to fill your course load with classes that directly relate to your study abroad destination. If you’re studying abroad in England, take a literature or a theater course. For students down under, why not learn more about marine conservation efforts in Australia? While it’s cool to crank out your psychology gen-ed credits, kick it up a notch by taking a unique psychology course that connects you to your surroundings. Wouldn’t a course on psychological warfare in World War II be a sweet class to take while studying abroad in Japan?

What should I do to not crash my GPA while studying abroad?

You might think that there’s no worse souvenir than an oversized, tacky souvenir glass...but you’re wrong. The worst post-study abroad souvenir is in fact a crummy GPA. But more importantly, there are a host of valuable souvenirs for you to take home from your time abroad.

If you’re having trouble keeping up with your studies while abroad or want pro-advice on how to successfully manage your time, read on to discover some of the most vital study tips, ways to balance work and play, and how to get the most out of your international course load.

Girl planning her schedule

TIP #1: Look ahead at your schedule.

Read through the classes’ syllabi and be aware of upcoming projects, readings, assignments, and due dates. Keep “to-dos” in a visible spot, that way your list of academic responsibilities is easily accessible and you will be reminded of the school-aspect of studying abroad frequently.

Take this idea a step further by purchasing a planner for your trip. Write in all important due dates ahead of time, along with any activities that you have planned. This will give you an accurate idea of when you will have time to study and how far in advance you should begin a project or essay. Be sure to keep up with this throughout your study abroad program, that way you do not forget about any important social events or projects.

TIP #2: Make sure to designate time to study.

Block out 20, 30, 45 minutes, or an hour of your time every day to devote to your studies, depending on your class load and the challenging nature of your coursework. Sunday nights are a great time to devote to hitting the books, so you can prep for the week and finalize any missed assignments from the previous week (shame shame!).

Factor in some wiggle room for trips and activities though; you don’t want to miss out on a cool cultural opportunity or bar crawl just because you planned on studying for an hour that night! Instead, make up for it by tacking on an extra ten minutes to each study session for the rest of the week. If you have a weekend trip coming up, studying is obviously out of the question. Substitute any time you would spend on school that weekend by studying hard the week before and making sure you are caught up and ready for the week after by the time Thursday night hits.

The key is to balance your work and play; don’t let one overtake the other. By planning ahead and allotting time accordingly, you can stay on top of your study-abroad-game and (maybe!) rock a 4.0 during your semester abroad.

TIP #3: Don’t fall into an internet trap!

A lot of students claim, “Okay! I can do an hour of homework every night, no problem.” Instead, they end up on Facebook or chatting with their friends with an open textbook nearby. If any true learning is going to happen, these distractions need to be cut out. Lucky for you, Netflix is hard to access in many countries so at least you’ll have one less interference to battle!

Set up shop in a place that will mitigate temptations. For some people, that may be their rooms, where the twinkling lights of the city and nearby conversations are removed. Others prefer to be in a library or café where they are no longer tempted to fall deep into a Buzzfeed hole, take a shower, or sleep.

Tourists in a traditional European plaza

TIP #4: Learn from your surroundings.

Don’t let all of your learning be confined to your textbooks. Just look around! For actively engaged students, everywhere you turn there is a new opportunity to learn. To fully take advantage of your study abroad semester (and new default screen on Google maps), aim to incorporate your observations into your classroom assignments.

Why research the food culture of Italy when you can descry it directly at the cafe around the corner?

This is a lesson in trusting yourself as a factual resource and interweaving your experiences into your academic takeaways from the semester.

TIP #5 Mix it up.

If an hour of homework seems like an eternity, especially since you are in a new place just waiting to be explored and experienced, break it up into smaller time frames. For example, read five pages of the assigned text or work on your essay for ten minutes, then do some lunges or pushups, text your friends back, or check Snapchat for a minute (disclaimer: this may lead to unnecessary bouts of FOMO).

Relax and rejuvenate before getting back to work. Adding in exercise is especially beneficial, since it helps time to pass more quickly and also keeps your heartrate up, so fatigue and boredom are less likely to hit.

TIP #6: Leave your procrastination at customs.

Many study abroad courses conclude the semester with a large project or essay. If this is the case, divide it up and do a little each day or every few days. For example, you might have a 20 page essay due in eight weeks. Twenty pages seems like a lot of work, especially with all of the traveling and sightseeing that needs to get done! By completing bit by bit, you’ll avoid feeling overwhelmed at the end of your program. We’d hate for you to have to skip out on last dinners with your new besties or other end-of-term festivities!

Students jumping in from of a monument in Europe

TIP #7: Live yo’ life.

Remember that you still need to live life. Get out and explore, discover, find out what interests you and ignites the passion within you. You’re not studying abroad so you have your nose in the books 24/7; you’re studying abroad to experience the world, learn by doing, and challenge your norms and perceptions drastically along the way. That’s a long “to do” list for a student who opts to get ahead in their studies instead of checking out a unique cultural opportunity in their study abroad destination. Just try your best to balance and acknowledge your responsibilities as a student.

Forget putting the “study” in study abroad; now set your sights on the “stud” in study abroad!

Study abroad is still college, and the grade you receive studying abroad will affect your GPA and schooling back home. You are not just paying for play time! School, health, and having fun are all equally important to being happy and living life to the fullest during your study abroad program.