Studying abroad is one of the most fulfilling and memorable experiences you can have. I spent a year in Long Beach, California as part of my American Studies degree and it was definitely the best year of my life so far. I wholeheartedly encourage people to study abroad if they have the opportunity. There is nothing quite like getting to live in another country for an extended period of time, experiencing their culture and their university life. Here are my five top tips for making the most of your time abroad:
5. Write a blog
This is a great way to reflect on your experiences, share them with friends and family back home and have an account of everything you did to revisit in the future. This will probably be the most adventure-filled year of your life so far and believe me you will want to look back on it all. Writing a blog also makes you think about all the cultural differences, realise how much you’ve done and appreciate what a unique experience this is. You may even discover a passion for writing and photography that you never had before! To get an idea, here’s the blog I kept: http://fivethousandmilestothebeach.blogspot.co.uk/
4. Choose the right classes
If possible take classes that you can’t get back home. You are there to learn as well as have a great time. Don’t worry, you can have the best of both worlds and fit it all in! Taking classes that are unique to your study abroad university, and a bit different from what you would usually do, will make the experience much more enriching. If you go to an American university you can usually try out as many classes as you want in the first week and see which you like the most. I wish I’d tried harder to do this on my year abroad. However, I did take some film and media classes that were very interesting and different from anything available at my home university, such as ‘Celebrity in American Culture’ and ‘Alternative Media’.
3. Fill your time with every opportunity
Say yes to new experiences! By the end of the year the country’s culture will seem so normal to you you’ll forget there was even any culture shock when you first got there. You’ll go home and miss the food, the weather, the lifestyle, so make the most of it. You will be amazed with how much you can fit into a day. Go to the beach at the drop of a hat, go on a road trip at the weekend, find an internship, work on the school’s newspaper, whatever you have an interest in, now is your time to pursue it. Do things you’d never even thought about before, get outside of your comfort zone.
2. Embrace college life
Talk to new people, make friends with people from all over the world and join in the activities. Go to class, hang out in your dorms, wander around campus and go to the college sports games. Enjoy the dining hall experience, embrace sharing a room and having friends live down the hall. This is the one time in your life you have the chance to see what another country’s university lifestyle is like. So as well as studying and travelling make sure you have time to just chill out and be a student.
Explore the local area around the university, find the coolest spots, the best food places, shops, beaches. Whatever may be unique to the place you’re living. Some of my fondest memories of my year abroad are the simplest ones, like going to get Fro-Yo or Iced Tea with friends. As well as seeing what your new home has to offer explore the wider area. This is your opportunity to see the country you’re in. Of course be wise with money but also make the most of your position in the world. While in the USA, living in California, I visited 8 states spanning Hawaii to New York. I had never, in my wildest dreams, thought that I would be going to Hawaii, but from LA it actually wasn’t that expensive and was well worth the spontaneous trip!
Your time abroad is all about balance: between studying, travelling, exploring the local area and just living the campus life. And not everything has to cost money, sometimes the best experiences are free. There is nothing quite like sitting on a beach watching the sunset while satisfied that you managed to fit in reading that book for tomorrow’s class beforehand. The time is what you make it and you will be left surprised by how much you can fit into a day, a week, a month, a year.