Pick the Right Program
This means research research research. I was practically doing another class worth’s work during my fall semester trying to narrow down places and programs. Many universities have specific relationships with universities abroad, and you will get an experience that has the familiarity of an American university, but many times the experience is not as foreign as one would hope. My roommate in college went to a Vanderbilt program in Aix en Provence, France, and was disappointed in how everyone she was in contact with was from Vanderbilt, and how the program was more American focused rather than interactive with the surroundings. The two programs I considered were CIEE, a third party program with locations all over the world and a good reputation that partners with local universities, and Danish Institute of Study Abroad, a local specific program in Copenhagen that had no affiliations with any Danish schools (it was its own entity). I ended up choosing DIS in Copenhagen because of the specialty course options, and their affiliation with local organizations such as museums and hospitals as opposed to universities. It is also important to factor in what type of living situation you want while abroad. Some programs have only homestays, some have dorms, and others have unique options such as living learning communities.
Pick the Right Area of Study
Many people use the time spent studying abroad taking cultural courses and increasing their GPA. While there is nothing wrong with this, it wasn’t an option for my course heavy Neuroscience major if I wanted to graduate on time. I needed a program with serious medicine and science courses in order to pique my interest and to stay on track for graduation. I was lucky enough, that during my interview for DIS, I hit it off with my interviewer, and we really got to know each other, and in return she hinted that my program of choice should be reconsidered. She alluded that my prior choice had no spots left, and urged me to change it so that I could be accepted to the program. This turned out to be the biggest blessings in the process, and I ended up participating in a program that was exactly what I wanted and more. I was able to visit ICUs in Germany, see a C section in a Polish hospital, and learn how to stitch and IV my friends for class credit. This was possible because of my program. My biggest advice is to do your research on the company’s website, and also to read reviews and ask people who have been through the program what their thoughts were.
Practice Good Mental Health
Enjoying your time abroad is dependent on how well you adjust to your new life in a different country. Adjusting goes beyond making friends, and includes taking care of yourself. This means that sometimes the best decision is to stay in some nights or spend a weekend watching Netflix and discovering your local neighborhood instead of being a jet-setter. When you look back on your time abroad, you want to have positive memories, and that means taking care of yourself and your emotions. For practical tips, refer to How To Have Good Mental Health While Solo Traveling.
This depends on what kind of studying abroad experience you want to have. I know many people who went abroad with their best friends and were with them 24/7. They grew in their friendship and will have memories together that will last a lifetime. Other people, like myself, made it a point to go somewhere where they didn’t know anyone else, and in this case it is like starting college all over again. I looked to my specific program and to locals to make friends. I lived in a building that was comprised of mostly Danish students and young professionals, and we had a communal kitchen and movie room that made it easy to get to know each other and learn about the culture. I also met people in my core class, and to this day I would consider them some of my best friends. We traveled on study tours together, studied for tests together, and got to know our surroundings (and the nightlife) together. Be cognizant of the people in your classes that you are drawn to or admire, and go talk to them! You have absolutely nothing to lose.
Travel, Not Too Much Not Too Little
It’s always difficult to find the perfect balance of how to spend one’s time. I have friends who traveled out of the country almost every weekend, and they missed out on a lot of community building that went on and have regretted not spending more time with friends. I have other friends who rarely left their home-base, and not look back and wish they would’ve been more adventurous and traveled while they had the chance and when it was easy because of physical proximity. Make a list of places you absolutely want to go during your time abroad, and plan ahead to make that happen. Factor in social events at your home-base and personal time into your calendar planning. Once you are committed to studying abroad, its never too early to start planning. Always travel where you want, and you’ll be surprised when your new friends tag along and make things even better. If you are averse to solo traveling, once you feel comfortable with a group of people, have a night where you make dinner, drink some wine, and plan a few trips. This pre-travel bonding will make the whole experience even more sweet. Need help with pre-trip planning? Check out How To Plan Your Next Trip.
Write Everything Down
Many people choose not to journal because they believe they will remember these times forever. Unfortunately, our brains are filled with so much information, that might not be the case. Journaling, blogging, and photography not only give you something tangible to share with your friends and family back home, but it provides structure to your time abroad. Writing down the things that took your breath away, or photographing the front of your favorite restaurants will prove invaluable when remembering your special time abroad, and serve as a fantastic guide if you ever go back to certain places. Many times people will ask you for recommendations for certain cities, and you will be the most helpful if you have recorded that places you’ve been and experiences you’ve had.