Studying abroad is usually a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so it’s important to make the most of it. By taking the advice of those who have traveled before you, you can avoid unnecessary problems and enjoy your time abroad even more. Here are some things I wish I knew before my semester overseas.
Ditch the iPhone
While most people think that an iPhone is pretty much your lifeline and should be basically attached to you at all times, it’s not. In all honesty, the more you stare at your phone while traveling abroad, the more you’re missing out. It doesn’t matter whether you’re looking up directions, finding a restaurant to eat at or the admission price of a museum, do that all beforehand, or better yet, ask a local.
During the first part of my study abroad experience, I was absorbed in my phone, and completely missed out on opportunities to practice the language with locals and immerse myself in the culture. I also realized that I was so intent on getting the perfect pictures for social media that I was thinking about that more than the moment I was in. I’d also spend too much time checking Facebook to see if people had “liked” my photos. Most of the time though, it was 3am back home and everyone was asleep anyway.
Studying abroad is the perfect time to practice your language skills (if you’re traveling to a country where English isn’t a primary language), however, you have to know when to open your mouth. If you’re alone in a city, or a part of town that’s not the safest, it’s best not to ask a stranger for directions. Your accent will alert everyone, including swindlers and pick-pockets, that you’re a tourist, which may put you in danger. This is a time where it’s ok to use your iPhone instead of speaking to the locals, trust me. It’s fun to wander around and get lost a little bit, but make sure you’re smart about it and avoid rough areas.
Don’t Forget Your Mosquito Net
As crazy as it sounds, a mosquito net was one of the best things I ever put in my suitcase when studying abroad. During one of my trips to the coast, mosquitoes and insects would have attacked me to death unless I had a net. With that being said, wherever your study abroad takes you, you will need to pack some bizarre things in your suitcase. Take the advice of those who have traveled to your destination before, and if they tell you to pack duct tape, or toilet paper, or safety pins, make sure you do.
When studying abroad, in many cases public transport is your key to freedom. It’s cheap and will help you travel to places that aren’t on your study abroad itinerary. If you’re anything like me, I was very nervous to take public transportation in a country I didn’t know well and whose language I wasn’t fluent in. However, I did my research ahead of time and mapped out my routes beforehand, which made my experience much easier and a lot less stressful.
Don’t Be Overly Spontaneous
While studying abroad is all about new adventures and excursions and discovery, don’t be fooled into thinking that you won’t need to plan ahead. Don’t get me wrong; being spontaneous and exploring a new country through spur of the moment daytrips or evenings out is what studying abroad is all about. However, it’s just not smart to do those things without a little preparation on your part. Make sure you’re aware of the public transport system, sites you want to see and places to avoid. I had one set aside to go “wherever life takes me,” thinking I would see some great new things. However, ended up wasting most of the day looking for places to go, and I could have seen three times as much if I had planned ahead.
If you do it right, your study abroad adventure will be one of the best experiences you’ll ever have. However, if you go into it blindly without any planning, it could become a disaster. By taking the advice of others and knowing what to pack, when to speak and where to pick up the bus you could turn your semester abroad into the best 14 weeks of your life.