Before studying abroad, you will probably get countless tips on how to make the most out of your experience. However, no guidebook you read or suggestion you receive from friends and family will truly let you know what it’s like until you’re actually there.
Here are 10 things that I’ve learned along the way:
Take different routes to and from school.
Not only does this spice up your daily routine, but it also allows you to wander and discover places during the week, when you have less time to explore.
Sign up for classes that you would never take back at home.
Originally, I was planning on taking all business classes because they would be related to my major; however, due to a scheduling conflict, I ended up with a course called TV Studies. It’s now my favorite class because the professor is an absolute riot who constantly makes sarcastic remarks and isn’t afraid to voice her political views.
Use social media less frequently.
If you’re constantly on your phone, you will miss out on a lot. After a month of trying to upload my latest photos on Facebook ASAP, I realized that this can be done whenever. It’s more important to soak in a particular moment and enjoy it. One or two pictures can wait, but after a moment passes, it is gone forever.
Buy your own groceries and cook your own food.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t dine at restaurants and try the local cuisine, but if you normally don’t eat out every day, don’t do it here. You can save so much money (for more important things, like traveling) by simply preparing your own meals.
Identify the unique things in your host country and capitalize on it.
For example, even though I am not a big coffee drinker, I have fallen in love with Spain’s “café con leche” which is EVERYWHERE. It’s also much cheaper than coffee in the States, so I make sure to enjoy it as much as I can before it will disappear from my life.
Don’t book 6AM flights.
I’m telling you right now, the cheaper fare isn’t worth the lack of sleep which will make you a zombie for the rest of the day. Plus, many modes of transportation to airports don’t start running UNTIL 6AM, so you might have trouble getting to your terminal.
Participate in the events put on by your school’s exchange student network.
You might think you’re too cool for these organized activities, but it’s such a good way to meet new people, especially in the first month when everyone is new.
Acknowledge that there will be bad days.
Everyone talks about how studying abroad is an amazing adventure, but no one mentions the pangs of homesickness every now and then or the difficulty of staying in contact with people. You will feel left out, lost, and confused when all of your friends are going on with life back at home, but remember that you’re making your own memories too.
Keep a journal or blog.
A lot of people do this to update others back home, but it’s just as much for your own personal sake! Writing things down not only helps you record your experiences so you can look back fondly at them one day, but it also allows you to make sense of your new surroundings and understand why things are the way they are.
Set aside time to focus purely on yourself.
For me, studying abroad is not only a learning experience about new cultures and ways of life, but also an amazing opportunity for self-discovery and self-improvement. Besides becoming more open-minded, independent, and street smart from living here on my own, I’ve also been able take better care of myself with little things, like cooking healthier, sleeping earlier, exercising more, and reading for pleasure. As a result, I find myself feeling genuinely happier and more confident.
I hope these tips give you a better idea of what it’s like to study abroad and make you excited for your journey! You’re going to have the time of your life.
Alina Tang will graduate from USC in 2016. She is majoring in business administration and plans to work in the Management Development Program at Mondelez International and gain more experience in global marketing.