Top Mistakes To Avoid When Studying Abroad

by Troy Peden

So you're leaving to study abroad! You are about to have the time of your life — your friends back home are so jealous — and you are going to do this up right! For most students, studying abroad is the single most memorable thing they'll do in their university life. But some common mistakes can really wreck what should be a fantastic international experience. Avoid these, and you'll get the most out of your time abroad.

A silk sleeping bag liner is ultra compact and can serve as an extra layer of warmth (or hygiene!).
Don't blow off the “study” in study abroad! Photo by Troy Peden

1.   Drinking Too Much. This is the most common one. Don't be the ridiculous American doing 20 shots and puking on the cobblestone streets. Putting yourself at risk for accidents, stupid decisions, and legal trouble when you are abroad is just a bad idea. You may be in a country where drinking is part of the culture, but nobody likes an obnoxious drunk anywhere in the world. Also, it can't be emphasized enough: you look like a jerk. Don't embarrass your school (or your nationality, for that matter) by being out of control.

2.   Flunking Out. There are many repercussions for bad grades abroad. Some universities give only pass/fail credit for study abroad, which may mean you need a C or better to even pass. Other universities calculate your international grades into your GPA — don't blow your grad school admission because of too many late nights in Rome. Yes, you're having fun, but you're here to work too — it is possible to achieve both.

3.   Not Immersing In The Culture. Get away from the English speakers. Meet the locals, find out where they go for fun, and try and practice the language (as embarrassed as you may feel at first). Network through your homestay and your fellow students. Don't hang out at the American bars — you can do that back home. Make a conscious effort to immerse yourself every day.

4.   Getting Stuck In The World You Left Behind. Facebook and Twitter will draw you back into your friends' drama thousands of miles from you — log off and walk away. Your time abroad is limited, so socialize in the real world, where you are, as much as you can. Try not to study abroad with your boyfriend or girlfriend — that way, you can avoid relationship drama and have an experience that's uniquely yours. Have guests, including your parents, visit you at the end of your program. Let go of the world behind you — it will be waiting for you when you are done thoroughly experiencing this new, fleeting one.

5.   Believing You Are Invincible. Students often let their guard down in a new environment: Spaniards are so friendly, I could never get robbed here ... There is almost no crime in London compared to New York ... Everyone in Tokyo is just so nice to foreigners! You don't have to be paranoid, but don't abandon your common sense just because you're in a different place. Big cities have similar problems everywhere in the world. I met a group of American students in Spain who had reported being the victims of theft — in each instance they admitted,  I let my guard down — I let a stranger borrow my cell phone, I fell asleep in the park and my backpack was gone, etc. The local crime rate may be low, but if you are an obvious foreigner, you're a target — and that's true everywhere in the world.

Have a blast, but be smart too. Your study abroad experience will be life-changing, no matter what. Just make sure that it's for the right reasons!