Studying Abroad: What to Know Before You Go

In the last 15 years, the number of U.S. students studying abroad has more than doubled. Perhaps it's the allure of living in a new culture, bulking up their Instagram (hashtag no filter needed) or escaping their comfort zone. Maybe it's the long term career benefits that motivate students to take the plunge across the pond. In our global economy, employers are attracted to applicants with experience abroad and research indicates that students who study abroad improve their chances of admission to their first choice graduate schools. Still, juggling finances, choosing where to go and figuring out the logistics of a semester or year abroad is not a task for the faint hearted. These tips can help those on their way abroad maximize the experience and minimize anxiety along the way. 

Photo by Samuel Seller via Unsplash

Photo by Samuel Seller via Unsplash

Chose to study in a country, city, or town where you know as few people as possible. Not knowing anyone is even better!

This may sound contradictory to the goal of minimizing stress but it will certainly push you step far out of your comfort zone. While you will have to spend some time adjusting to new places and all new people, you will learn far more about yourself and grow in ways you would never expect. If you travel with good friends you will be more comfortable, but you may miss out on formative and extraordinary experiences that come with putting yourself in a new place. 

Come to terms with the fact that you will be spending lots of money abroad ASAP.

The sooner you realize that you will be coming home with a hole in your bank account, the better. Living abroad is always expensive and you will likely be traveling and trying new things, which comes with a price tag. If you accept this before making the move overseas, you will be able to save up and plan your spending. Furthermore, you will be inclined to plan out your spending to make sure you are maximizing each credit card swipe. That being said, whenever you have the means to do something you're excited about (like taking an impromptu trip or visiting an expensive museum, go for it. Studying abroad is a time to put aside spending guilt whenever you can and treat yourself to all the enriching and fulfilling experiences that come your way. 

When traveling to a new city, find out what the locals like to do for fun.

This especially applies to eating in foreign countries. It can be very important to do internet research and ask locals where they like to eat in order to make the most of each meal. You can’t exactly starve, so you will inevitably be spending money on food. Nothing is worse that paying too much for a bad meal, and this can happen in large cities where restaurants try to cater to vast crowds of tourists. Even if you are famished and everyone you are traveling with is getting cranky, it is always worth it to put a little extra effort into selecting a great place for dinner rather than wandering into the first restaurant with a “buy 1 appetizer, get 1 free” banner. 

On those nights you really feel like staying in and watching Netflix (or whatever foreign alternative you find), go out. 

This doesn't mean you should be partying every single night. Instead, you should push yourself out of your comfort zone on these days or nights (literally, force yourself to change out of those comfy pajamas into a cute outfit) and put yourself out there. There is plenty of time to watch TV, but the months you spend living abroad are not that time. Get out and meet people even when socializing sounds like the most exhausting thing in the world. 

Don’t fall under the illusion that studying abroad will be one long party.

Similar to mentally preparing yourself to come home much poorer than when you left, you should be aware of the tough times that study abroad inevitabily brings. You will get lonely, you’ll get lost (physically and maybe even emotionally), you will get run down from traveling and eating new foods, and you will have moments where you want to go home. These moments will only be made worse by the mentality that you should be happy and having fun the entire time you are abroad. Accept that you will feel down sometimes, and let yourself go to that place. Just don't stay too long. There is far too much to be seen and experienced during your short time abroad!