Since childhood I’ve dreamed of venturing abroad, packing up my life and exploring a new landscape. How often in life are we afforded the chance to call a foreign city home, to study its culture and language full-time? Study abroad is one of those occasions.
Pull out the globe, spin it around, and see what your finger lands on. Do you speak Spanish? French? Italian? Or perhaps you’ll learn a new language, along the sloping streets of Lisbon or the open markets of Bangkok. Maybe there is a landmark that has always called to you: Iguazu Falls? The Eiffel Tower?
Wherever you go, you will be treated to foods you have never tasted, customs you have only read about, and people you have never before called friends and neighbors. Your study abroad experience will expand your perspective, coloring it with first hand interactions and stories. It will give you a new lens through which to view the world.
Here I have compiled a list of four essential goals to achieve during your study abroad adventure, to ensure you take full advantage of this opportunity. Happy traveling!
1. GET TO KNOW YOUR TOWN
As a student studying abroad, you are not just a tourist in this new country. It is a place you get to call home for the duration of your studies, so make sure you get to know it as a resident would. Of course you will want to visit all the tourist sights, but go beyond that. Get to know spots that the locals love, off the beaten path and full of local culture.
Learn your own way around the city without having to rely on maps or your GPS every time you leave the house. It will take some time, as you explore new routes to get from place to place, learn how to make use of public transportation, and become more comfortable in this foreign land. Build up your mental geography of the city as you travel to new sites and expand your map.
Soon enough you will know the city like your own college town back in the United States, and it will truly be a home.
2. TASTE THE LOCAL FOOD — ALL OF IT
Every place has its delicacy, from guinea pig and pisco sour in Peru, to bratwurst and beer in Germany. Some of them may sound enticing — Italian gelato, Spanish paella– and others, maybe not so much — French escargot, Portuguese octopus. But they are delicacies for a reason; a town, or an entire country, has given their stamp of approval to a dish. So you might as well give it a try.Keep an open mind and you may come home with a new favorite food.
3. LEARN THE LANGUAGE AND PRACTICE EVERYWHERE YOU GO
One of the biggest benefits of living in a foreign city is that you are forced to communicate with people who don’t speak your language. In language classes back home it is easy to revert to English when the going gets tough, but immersed in a place where few people speak English, your language skills will be challenged.
Before you leave for your time abroad, learn at least the basics of the language you will be surrounded by. And when you arrive, utilize what you know. Even if you can put together only a very few sentences, I think you will find in most places you go, that local people will respect and appreciate the effort you make to speak their language. Don’t spend all of your time clinging to other Americans you might find in the city — challenge yourself by making friends with locals, speaking in their language.
The more time you spend abroad, the more words and phrases you will pick up. Have conversations with people around the city, at restaurants or museums. And if you are feeling confident, take a tour in the local language instead of your own.
4. EXPLORE WHAT’S AROUND YOU
While abroad, you will have new neighboring cities and countries. So why not explore those while you are close by? Take weekend trips out of your city, to see what else is in the region.
You can take trains or buses and stay in hostels wherever you go. Maybe your new local friends will have recommendations of what to see, or you can get a travel book of the country or the area. There are sure to be sights around that you would love to see, and your study abroad location may be as close as you will get to them for a while. So go explore!
Study abroad has so much to offer, plenty more than is encompassed in this list. But these four things will get you started on a truly worthwhile experience. Take in the culture, history, language, customs and ideas you will be surrounded by, and immerse yourself in a new way of life. Learn from them and let your worldview evolve with these new interactions. And finally, don’t ever forget how lucky you are to study and live abroad.