How to Study Abroad Like Everybody Else

by megan lee /
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Jul 30, 2014 / 0 comments

You've flipped through a number of program brochures, talked briefly with your study abroad advisor, and are starting to get a little excited about the possibility of studying abroad for a semester in college. Now's the time to choose where you'll go and daydream what it will be like to live independently in a foreign country.

Before you get too ahead of yourself, we wanted to share a few tips to ensure your study abroad experience will be no trouble at all for you to plan, organize, and execute. Take it from the pros: don't bother having a more interesting or unique experience abroad, or seeking a program that truly aligns with your academic goals. Resist pushing the envelope - study abroad just like everybody else! Here's how.


How to study abroad just like everybody else


1. Study in England

Why use your precious semester abroad to explore exotic locales or go off the beaten path? You could always do a homestay in a Chinese hutong or learn how to make fufu in Ghana later on in life. Developing countries are changing a bit too rapidly, so you better stay put in a country that's kind of different, but still fairly familiar and comfortable.

France, Spain, or Italy might make good second options, but be sure to consider the communication gaps you'll inevitably encounter. Two words: head. ache!


2. Hang out with only Americans

You're exploring an unknown country for the first time - don't waste energy exploring what friendships and relationships with people from other cultures could look like. Other Americans get you - they'll understand your need for peanut butter, your distaste for cafes without wifi, and even spot you for that daily (er, weekly) Starbucks fix.

Take it one step further - if you're studying abroad with other students from your university, don't make an effort to befriend others. Who will be there to relish in memories with you once you return to your home campus? Your university peers. That's who.


3. Stick to speaking English

Even if you've been studying a foreign language for quite some time, you're not going to master fluency in a month or three unless you commit seriously to speaking in the target language. Speaking English the majority of the time is the easier route, and you'll still be able to have a cool experience abroad.

Even if you're studying in a country where English is not the first language, if you're patient enough, you're bound to bump into enough locals who will be able to communicate with you.


4. Go to class when it's convenient

The whole point of studying abroad is to learn by doing, right? In that vein, why bother in sitting in a stuffy classroom when you can be out learning experientially? (Never mind that most of the cultural exploring you're doing is through drinking and dancing 'til the wee morning hours). You're tired and deserve to rest up for the next night on the town. Only go to class when it's convenient for your schedule; its okay if you actually forget to "study" while on your "study abroad" program.


5. Don't wander past the tourist sites

Tourist destinations are cool for a reason: tons of dead guys and current folks alike find them to have historical, political, or natural significance. Avoid going to little side streets for dinner or veering too far off your guidebook's suggested itinerary. You might get lost or, even worse, get a bout of food poisoning!

Additionally, you spend 5 days a week in your study abroad destination. Use those weekend days to be a tourist in nearby countries. Spending 48 hours in Paris is better than nothing at all, right?


6. Report your every move to your social media channels

A wise adage once said: "If you didn't write it on Facebook, did it actually happen?" Be sure to constantly and vigilantly check your Twitter, Facebook, Snapchats, Tumblr, etc. How will everyone back home be able to bask in the awesomeness of your life abroad (and your pictures of cute little Peruvian children and llamas) if you don't post it immediately? Refreshing your social media pages every 3 minutes is a much better way to spend your time than exploring the country or getting to know the locals.


If you want to have a study abroad semester that is truly a glorified vacation rather than an intense learning experience, take the above tips to heart, avoid trying, and let your frequent Instagram posts do the talking for you.





Megan Lee is an international educator, traveler, and writer. She currently leads study abroad programs in China and the South Pacific. Keep up with her on Twitter @peglegmeg and Google+.


Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons: 10da_ralta, adapted by Wandering Educators