It doesn’t matter how many orientations you have, you are never prepared for the experience of studying abroad until you actually get there. You’ve read all the cheesy posts online about what to pack and what to expect, but, as you try to get a grasp on the gravity of your situation, you have to accept the fact that each individual experience is totally unique. Once you get there, you’ll discover how to make things work for you and, in the end, it won’t matter what type of backpack or hiking boots you have. After spending an entire year abroad, here are five things that I assure you are important to remember, no matter where you’re studying, how long you’re staying, or what you’re hoping to get out of it.
1. You are here to study.
As soon as you step foot off the plane and into the big, wide world, it is easy to forget why you left the comfort of campus in the first place—to study. Other countries have very different expectations for their student’s studies and it is important to figure out what you’re up against. In Argentina, for example, the concept of office hours does not exist, so you’re on your own. While these abroad programs are, most likely, going to be a little less rigorous to allow time for you to explore, you can’t look at this as a time to forget about grades. When you get home, you still have to face that C+ in Spanish 251 on your transcript and, unlike your jetlag, it will not disappear.
2. …but you are also here to see the world.
This time abroad is the chance to really flex your time management skills. Keeping good grades while also being able to travel every weekend is challenging but more than worth it. Make sure you don’t spend too much time sitting at home watching Netflix and napping your weekends away—you might as well have stayed at home for that. It is much more rewarding spend your nights sipping wine and sharing stories over pizza in Florence or ogling the Northern Lights in Norway. You can catch that nap on the train, or bus, or plane home.
3. Be spontaneous and flexible.
When you’re looking to travel, don’t be disappointed if you can’t see everything you wanted to. Instead, be open to adventures that you never expected and push yourself to do things out of the box. Those unexpected escapades, like spending St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, may end up being your favorite memories of all. Remember to go with the flow; if you are traveling with friends, things may not always go as planned. However, you can be sure that you will laugh about the good—and bad—things that happen along the way.
4. Don’t get comfortable.
Comfort is relative. I mean this in two ways. First, do not flock to the things in your town that are familiar and faintly American. While that English speaking bar may have killer drink specials and a tasty brunch, you definitely want to try the places all the locals go to and put your Spanish to good use. Secondly, you have to realize that you may stick out amongst the crowd, and you must protect yourself. While I do not mean you will be the star of Taken, you must be mindful of your surroundings. Keep a hand on your bag or wallet and stay with a buddy. When you get comfortable, you get lazy.
5. Appreciate it.
This is the toughest one to follow through with. When you are abroad, everything is a blur; it’s like college on steroids. Not only are you free to be your own person, but you’re in a foreign place where you’re legal and unique. While you bask in the glory of your perfect, enviable Instagram photos, make sure you truly recognize how fortunate you are. It goes by so fast, it feels as though no time whatsoever passes between your first plane ticket and your last. However, rest assured knowing that you will return to the country that stole your heart soon.