Six years ago, I had the great opportunity of studying abroad twice: first in Singapore and then in Sydney, Australia. Both experiences were unforgettable. These tips will help you ease into your summer adventure as well as cope with the mixed emotions you’ll be facing.
1. Battle homesickness. Inevitably, you’ll get that twang of sadness in the pit of your stomach–homesickness. You’re miles away from your family, in an unfamiliar place, with strangers. The best thing about the situation is that technology is your friend. Today, you can stay connected with your family and friends back home through email, twitter, world phones, Facebook, and Skype. So if you’re feeling homesick, it’s easy to access a familiar face or voice with just a click. It also helps to pack a photoalbum of your family and friends.
2. Keep a journal. It might be hard at first, but keeping a journal helps with chronicling your adventures and remembering those little details that might get forgotten along the way. What was the name of that restaurant you went to with the good appetizers? Or what was the name of that bar with the different kinds of beer on tap? Or what was the name of that cute waitress or that handsome bartender? It’ll be a great read after the summer is over and a great treasure for yourself in the future.
3. Don’t overpack. This is a tough one because you’ll probably overpack anyways. But remember that you’ll probably end up buying alot of things wherever you end up traveling. And you’ll want to save room for souvenirs, too. Just be conscience of all the factors when packing. Like, do you really need two pairs of sneakers? Or do you really need a hairdryer? Do you really have to bring your entire collection of Twilight books? Probably not.
4. Break out of your shell. One of the most important things that I experienced while overseas, was coming out of my shell and comfort zone. I was really shy and timid at first. But after meeting so many different people from different backgrounds and cultures, I knew that I had to break out of that introverted personality. Now, I’m not afraid to meet new people and make new friends. Be sure that you put yourself out there and be in as many social situations as you can. You’ll meet the most amazing people that might become some of your lifelong friends.
5. Travel in groups. You’re away from your family and in a different, foreign place. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind nature of it all. Be sure to stay safe and be smart. Travel in groups especially at night. Keep your important documents and items locked in a safe somewhere; don’t carry it with you unless you have to. And always let others know where you’re going if you’re traveling to the supermarket, to the beach, to another country on holiday, etc. because you never know what unexpected occurrence may happen.
6. Don’t forget about your studies. Remember that studying abroad is exactly that–STUDYING. You’re taking classes and getting credit for them which will end up on your transcript and student record. You don’t want to fumble up an amazing experience with failing grades. Balance your play time with your school time. Make sure you do all of your homework by keeping lists of what’s due. Attend your classes and don’t be late. If you know you have to get up early in the morning, don’t stay up all night at the local pub playing darts.
7. Keep in contact with your counselor. Keep your school counselor back home in the loop of how you’re doing. It’s their job to ensure that you’re having a good time and good academic experience. Sometimes it can be hard transitioning from one school to another. Your counselor knows what kinds of issues might arise because they’ve encountered this with other students previously. Don’t be embarrassed if you’re having a hard time. Just talk to your counselor and they’ll support you in any way they can.
8. Be wary of strangers; trust your gut feelings. Yes, for the most part, everyone you meet will be nice and have good intentions. But sometimes, unfortunately, you may encounter some bad seeds that don’t have your best interests in mind. One time I was traveling on an overnight bus and a man asked if he could move my backpack from the top storage deck to the other side of the bus. I didn’t think anything of it so I said ok. But I got a weird feeling in the back of my mind and so I stood up to check on my bag. Sure enough, that same man was rummaging through my bag, looking for valuables! Luckily, there were many witnesses and he got thrown off of the bus, but I should have been more wary. Just remember if your spider-senses are telling you something’s wrong, it probably is. Go with your gut feelings.
9. Branch out to different cultures. Its easy and natural to gravitate to people you’re used to hanging around with. I’m from Texas and so when I studied abroad in Singapore, it was comfortable to hang out with people who spoke English and talked about the same basketball teams and craved the same fried chicken like me. But I soon realized that I wouldn’t be getting the full study abroad experience unless I learned more about the people who lived in the country I traveled to. I started hanging out with students from my classes who were originally from Singapore. It was great learning the differences and similarities in cultures. And they probably loved learning from the foreign exchange student from Texas with a country twang! It’s also a great way of learning the language, to immerse yourself with locals. Locals will also know the cool hole in the wall places you’ll never read about in a guide book.
10. Take lots of pictures. Studying abroad will change your life and ultimately change the person that you are. You’ll emerge a more well-rounded, mature, and experienced person. You’ll want to capture this journey through photographs. Take as many pictures as you can and exchange pictures with the new friends you’ve made as well. These pictures will be great mementos of an amazing time in your life. And it’ll let you share those experiences with your family and friends back home.