Getting the Most from Your Study Abroad Experience

Asako Maruoka's picture

There's no experience quite like studying abroad. It can literally be life changing, setting you on a different career path entirely or introducing you to friends who will be significant to you for the rest of your life. Living and going to school in a different country and culture is so different from going there as a tourist, and what you learn in the semester or year that you spend abroad will inform the rest of your life. However, there are things you can do to improve this experience, starting with the tips below.

Getting the Most from Your Study Abroad Experience

Organize Your Finances

You don't have to be rolling in cash to enjoy your time in another country, but you'll have a much better time if you know how much you have to spend. There are many different types of programs and opportunities to study abroad with various funding options. If you're attending school on Going Merry scholarships for college students or similar scholarships, they might not cover your semester abroad, but if they cover some or part of your costs at your home university, this can free up funding for your study abroad. 

Be sure to go online, where you can search and apply for Going Merry and other scholarships. There are other forms of financial aid you may be able to use to cover your study abroad costs. In addition, in many countries, you may be able to work part-time on a student visa. You definitely should not assume that you won't be able to study in another country if you don't already have money set aside to do so.

Socialize Broadly

One of the big mistakes some American students, or students from any country, make when they study abroad is gravitating toward people from their own country. This is tempting and understandable for many reasons. There's no language barrier, you may be homesick, and in a foreign country, you might connect with other American students you wouldn't otherwise be friends with just on the basis of your shared nationality. 

There's absolutely nothing wrong with hanging out with your American friends, but you will be seriously limiting your experience if that's all you do. It can be tough to break the ice and spend time with students from the host country and other countries, especially if that means becoming more proficient in another language, but your experience will be so much richer if you do so. Think of it in terms of short-term pain for long-term gains.

Have Some Goals

Before you head to another country, think about what your goals are for studying abroad. Do you want to learn a lot about a subject you'll be able to focus on in this new country? Are you hoping to improve your language skills? Do you want to get some experience under your belt for an international career? 

Maybe you just want to have a good time and make some new friends, which is absolutely a legitimate goal to have alongside or in place of career-oriented or academic ones. Setting goals can give you a sense of purpose, which can be especially important when culture shock and homesickness kick in. This will happen from time to time, but it doesn't have to spoil your experience.

Be Flexible

You should absolutely set some goals. You should also be prepared for things to go so differently from what you imagined back at home that you end up entirely revamping those goals. This won't necessarily happen, but if it does, you need to be flexible enough to roll with it. One of the most valuable lessons you can take away from this experience is learning to adapt to new information and situations. 

Studying abroad can be disorienting in the very best of ways, forcing you to confront and reconsider many of your preconceived notions about yourself and the world. When things don't go to plan, and at some point this will happen, don't assume that this means you've done something wrong. Instead, embrace it as one of the valuable lessons that you've come here to learn.

Expect Bumps on Re-Entry

This is so common that it's almost a cliche, so you can count on it happening to you too. You get home from your study abroad experience, and you feel like a different person. Everything has changed. All you want to do is talk to other people about these things. Yet, what you find is that your friends back home haven't changed as much as you have. 

During your few months in another country, you may feel as though you learned and experienced as much as you might have in years back home. In contrast, friends and family back home can feel strangely static and maybe even uninterested in your experiences. Rather than getting frustrated with them, talk to them about what they've been up to and accept that you've both had a very different few months or academic year. However valuable it's been for you; their time has been no less valuable.

Getting the Most from Your Study Abroad Experience

Have you studied abroad? What are your best tips?