Heed the extremely useful advice one of our students, Jake, as he goes over what to avoid when looking for Study Abroad Programs and what to avoid upon arriving.
- Avoid programs that don’t give you multiple housing options. This one is huge. Having options for housing and staff that will work with you to find the ideal living situation is of the utmost importance. Many programs offer one housing option (host family), but this is not for everyone and may be a mistake or waste of money for some individuals, so look for a program that offers multiple options (living with locals, other students from the program, or a host family)
- If the program is not flexible with classes, look somewhere else. Students require different options and programs should accomodate the needs of their students, as education should be the top priority. While experiencing new things is the reason for going, you are still in school therefore your study abroad program should accommodate your needs as far as credits go.
- Make sure that you have the money or you have some sort of work study/financial aid. If you’re going abroad chances are, you’re not going to be able to work while abroad. So budget appropriately. If you don’t you WILL end up being one of the horror stories of being abroad and running out of money. This happens all to often so be wary of your financial situation and don’t overextend yourself.
- Don’t just go along with the flow. Talk to your school, talk to the administration of your chosen program. If they’re the right program for you they will work with you to personalize your experience and make sure you get the most out of your experience.
- If a program doesn’t offer “excursions” outside of your city of residence, look somewhere else. It is important to remember that when you’re abroad you wont have you’re car so getting outside the city may be difficult, so it is important the program you choose offers opportunities to see more of the country you’re visiting than just the city that you’re living in. The ability to be shown around taught the local traditions by a local is something that is incredibly valuable and difficult to find in a program and don’t settle for less.
- Don’t pick your study abroad program based on where your friends are or where they may be. Go somewhere new, and make experiences by yourself. YOU WILL MAKE NEW FRIENDS. Plus the best way to immerse yourself in a culture is through making new friends. Go out and live a little and make some new friends and embrace the culture. Don’t seclude yourself by going where your friends are going.
- Don’t limit yourself. Obviously you have places that you want to go, but be willing to think outside the box. If an opportunity presents itself to go somewhere that you never would have considered, jump on it. Just because it is different doesn’t mean it is bad. Give yourself a chance to learn about new things.
Mistake: choosing to live with other people from the United States. Studying abroad is an opportunity to submerse yourself in a new culture. If you attend classes with other english speakers or people from the United States and then return home to the same people, chances are you’re missing out on a valuable opportunity to practice the local language and learn about the local culture. Even if you end up rooming with other international students, you are still expanding your knowledge as a global citizen. It is easy to stay inside your comfort zone, but growth is slow when you don’t challenge yourself! You may only study abroad once, take advantage of the opportunity to submerse yourself in a new environment.
Mistake: choosing a study abroad program that does not offer excursions. Save yourself time and effort and pick a program with excursions! That way, you do not have to toil over a laptop, trying to find the best excursion deals and figuring out where you want to go over the weekend. Your program has already planned that for you! You can shut your laptop, slip on your sandals, and head out into your new city to explore.
Mistake: letting fear stop you from practicing your Spanish. Yes, it can be intimidating to try to communicate in a new language. But you can’t learn if you never try. It is OK to stumble over words, or to realize you are unable to follow a conversation after you’ve initiated it. The fact is, you are trying. And people appreciate effort. The more you speak a new language, the more confident you will become. And the more opportunities you will have to see how the language is used in local context. Remember to be patient – picking up a new language does not happen overnight! Get comfortable stumbling over words and not quite understanding what is happening. It will be so worth it the day you realize you’re following the conversation!
Mistake: forgetting to practice gratitude. It is amazing how thinking of a list of things you are grateful for can shift your mood. Chances are, the feeling of homesickness will pass through you at least once or twice during your time abroad. If you can recognize the feeling, and change your focus to a list of things that excite you or make you feel grateful, it is much easier to overcome a longing for home. It also helps to get out and explore your new city. The more you see of your new home, the more excitement you will have for your study abroad experience. Getting out and seeing your surroundings can help take your mind off missing home. And don’t worry – the feeling of homesickness will pass!