If you’re like most of us, learning skills (and earning credits) far, far away from home has been one of the best times of your life, and you probably don’t want it to end. You’ve built memories and expanded your mind—why would you want to come home now?
While there’s no magic code to make your experience go on forever, you can make the most of the time you have left of your study abroad, and the end of the semester itself, by following these simple tips:
While You’re There
Eat, Eat, Eat!
If you really want to experience the place where you’ve been studying, sooner or later you’ll have to ditch the guidebooks and dive right into the local cuisine. Whether that’s squid ink noodles or haggis, borscht or a hot pot with live eels, try at least one signature item of the local cuisine that kind of makes your skin crawl. Experience a traditional meal, and eat all you can afford - because you’ll never find the real deal like this once the experience is over. Don’t beat yourself up too much if you come home carrying a little extra, er, weight (and not just in your luggage).
Go Picture Crazy!
Yes, nobody wants to be the person showing the endless slideshows of “and this is the gelato stand we went to after classes…and here it is at sunset, at sunrise…here it is from this angle, and this one…”
But let’s be real: you went on this study abroad for yourself, and the pictures you take should be things you want to cherish and remember — never mind what anyone else thinks! If there’s a statue or a tree that was special to you, then you put as many Instagram filters on that as you want to! By all means make a pared-down folder to show at parties, but for you? Snap away!
Pictures will help your memories of this wonderful experience stay fresh in your mind. If you’re going to err, err on the side of over-photographing. You’re more likely to regret not having a photo of one thing, or a tiny detail of that thing, than you are to regret having three different photos of each of your favorite cafes or an entire memory card devoted to the Tuileries palace and gardens. Take pictures of things that feel really normal too. You’ll want to remember even the non-special places from your new home.
Acquire Meaningful Souvenirs
Don’t just buy the cheapest thing you can that has the city name on it; just because you went on an art scholarship to Paris does not mean you need an Eiffel Tower keychain from a gas station. Get something sentimental to remember your time.
Pay attention to what and where you buy. Going back to the example of the Eiffel Tower keychain: if such a trinket would serve as a pleasant reminder of your stay in Paris, then buy one by all means — but buy it from a poor merchant under the tower itself or in view of the Tower at the Palais de Chaillot for maximum fond memories and a good story to tell. Or, if you’re a tea fiend studying in London or Oxford, buy a real English tea service to take a little bit of Britain back when you head back home.
If you’ll use the item and it will bring back happy memories of your trip, then that’s what matters. Expert Tip: You don’t have to spend money to collect meaningful mementos! Pick up papers in the street, save wrappers from local restaurants and confectionery, and save bottle caps and pick up coins in the street — tactile things like that are especially perfect for scrapbooking aficionados.
Before You Leave
See Your Bucket List Through
You’ve likely made a bucket list of things to do on your study abroad when you started the program — or maybe you’ve formed a list as you started living in your study abroad country and learned more about your new surroundings. Now the time has come for you to make sure you’re not on your way home with something uncrossed on the list.
So take the list you’ve made (or make it if it’s just been tumbling around in your head) and make sure you’ve crossed off everything on it by the time you’re set to say goodbye (although if you haven’t, it’s not the end of the world!).
Class Credit: Ducks in a Row
Many study abroad programs include assignments or papers as part of the fun of travel and on-site learning. If you realize, once home, that you forgot something you need for that paper or assignment, it’s not like you can head back to the library or museum at the last minute—you’re not in Oxford anymore, and the Louvre is an ocean away.
Before you leave the country, make sure your professor has recorded any assignments you’ve turned in on the trip, and be sure you both know where you stand academically. Go over your drafts or notes for any final papers or other projects for the course to be sure you’ve soaked up, noted, and photographed everything you’ll need to finish; if you haven’t, go out and find what you need while you’re still in the country. If you’re worried about your final grades, ask before you go - you’re way less likely to motivate your resident contacts to change your grades if you reach out the following semester.
As You Head Home
Remember What You’re Going Home To
Everyone has something to look forward to when they arrive home. Whether it’s your lovely dorm/apartment, a loving family, your fantastic group of friends, or a beloved pet, think about something to look forward to when you go back home.
Take a moment and think of how happy you’ll be to get home and how happy the ones you love will be to see you. Surely you’ve missed things about them you can’t have as a part of this particular experience--Mom’s chicken enchilada’s? The way your cat stretches out to nap and curls up purring in your lap before he goes to sleep?
And while you’ll miss the experiences, sensations, and lifestyles of where you’ve been studying, nothing beats the company of those you love. Yes you’ll miss being able to walk in Regent’s Park in the mornings and the smell of fresh meat roasting in the local market, but that can’t equal your family’s faces when they see you for the first time in a semester or more. And you’ll get to relive this wonderful experience
Arrive in Triumph
You’ve accomplished so much! Yes you’ve had a grand old time and maybe it didn’t feel like work, but you’ve learned a lot, earned college credit, and expanded your horizons. Celebrate it! Acknowledge and revel in your success, and treat yourself accordingly. Most of this may be the internal equivalent of patting yourself on the back, but there are other ways of celebrating your triumphant return from a successful semester abroad. Whether that’s strutting your best runway walk to the gate for your return flight to Topeka or Toronto,airport transportation to get you to the plane on time without a stressful rush, or listening to “The Boys are Back in Town” at baggage claim, revel in your success as you best can.
Studying abroad is a time to learn about more than just your chosen discipline: it’s a time to learn about your world and yourself. Make sure to focus on enjoying the time you have been blessed with to spend learning in a new corner of the world; focus on creating happy memories rather than on the fact that it all has to end. Now you can earn the credit to reflect what you learn, create and document your memories, make that slideshow for your family with no regrets, and smile as you know you didn’t waste a minute of your time studying abroad.Photo Credits: API Study Abroad and Carpe Diem.