Reflecting on studying abroad: Tips I wish I told myself beforehand

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“Studying abroad is so much fun!” People hear this all the time after someone spends a semester abroad, but studying abroad is so much more than “fun.” It’s challenging. It’s eye-opening. It’s scary, at times, to be in a new place with no family around you. Most importantly, it’s a learning experience.

You learn a lifetime of knowledge in the span of months by pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and trying new things. Essentially, when a person goes abroad, they have the possibility to create a new version of themselves. That’s exactly what I did. I was lucky enough to study in London during my fall semester of freshman year, and I quite literally became an entirely new person. In high school, I was pretty shy and never wanted to try new things. When I mean “never,” I mean literally never. I was so stubborn about it for some reason and only wanted to eat what I knew and travel to places I was already familiar with. I emerged from the program a brave new me. Someone who tried everything and anything and was no longer afraid to take risks. Here are some tips I wish I told my former self before I went abroad. 

Feeling overwhelmed is normal

Going abroad can be an overwhelming experience. I remember that in the first week, we had no school, only orientation, which entailed traveling around the city, learning how to navigate the buses and the trains, adjusting to British culture and getting situated with the time difference. After the first week alone, I was exhausted! When school started the following week, I didn’t want to go out and continue exploring, I just wanted to stay inside and relax. But what’s the point of going abroad if you’re going to stay in your apartment the entire time? I found myself eager to explore the city, but absolutely exhausted all the time. A tip I wish I knew beforehand: This is completely normal. I spent about 15 weeks there, and many other study abroad trips last for the same duration. Taking one week for yourself is not the end of the world. Allow yourself to adjust because there’s no rush, and you’re not going to miss out on anything by taking a little time to get used to the environment. 

Don’t be afraid to try new things

Whichever city you end up studying abroad in, always push yourself to try something different. For the first 10 weeks, I went to the same coffee shop down the street from where I lived. This is fine, but why would you restrict yourself to one place when the entire city can’t wait to meet you? It starts by not going to the same coffee shop every single day.

Take school seriously

Don’t get me wrong: Traveling and going out while studying abroad is fun. But it’s called “studying” abroad for a reason, and I encourage you to take your academics seriously the entire time. Usually, not as much homework is assigned compared to your home university, because they know you are there to explore and learn about a culture. So just do the homework right away. Don’t wait until the last minute, or else you will have the impending homework you’ve been pushing off hanging over your head during whatever trip you are going on that weekend. I quickly learned around week four to stay at school for an hour or two after class to complete the homework for that week so that I could be worry-free afterward.

Make meals with other students in the program

I am still friends with half the students whom I went to London with. Easy, fun things to do in order to bond with other students in your program include inviting them to dinner. First of all, this saves money. If you do a potluck-style, you are making pasta for about five dollars, but you will end up getting a feast for dinner. Secondly, it is such an easy way to bond over food. Everyone has to eat dinner, so why not eat together? Some of my favorite memories were inside my apartment filled with eight to 10 students stuffing ourselves with the random foods that people brought.

Are your parents visiting? Tell them to come toward the end

One of my biggest recommendations is that if your parents are deciding to come visit, tell them to plan it toward the end of your trip, before finals, of course. This way, by the time they come, you’ll be an expert on what the city has to offer and can show them all of your favorite places. Everyone at the end agreed and wished their parents had visited toward the end of the trip, instead of at the beginning! Or, better yet, have your parents come at the very end and stay a few weeks with them after the program ends to explore the city and travel to other places.

I went to London shy and quite unconfident, and I emerged brave, with a new major and ready to tackle anything that came my way. Though studying abroad may not be feasible at this moment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s most definitely something we can all look forward to someday when we return to whatever the “new normal” might be. That’s not to say you can’t apply these tips to your life even when you’re not studying abroad! We can all most definitely use the reminder to open ourselves up to new experiences every once in a while.

Contact Natalia Brusco at [email protected].