Your semester studying abroad is bound to be one of the best times in your life. Don't mess it up! Its an unfortunate reality you may do the occasional dopey thing while studying abroad (Attempting to travel overland without your passport? Packing warm clothes for June in South Africa without realizing its their winter? D'oh!). However, it's best to begin your semester with a clear understanding of what everyday activities you have control over that can enrich or detract from your semester abroad. While it's fun to plan every weekend and dream of how study abroad should be before going, you may find that when you get over there, it can sometimes be difficult to follow even your own rules!
With a little help from Matador Network's collection of famous travel quotes, the following is a list of those everyday things we may need reminders of now and again while studying abroad. No one wants to come home wishing they had spent their entire semester differently. Read on for advice on avoiding the 10 common mistakes made while studying abroad:
1. Knows Nothing About the Host Country
“The cool thing about being famous is traveling. I have always wanted to travel across seas, like to Canada and stuff.” – Britney Spears
For goodness sake, if you are committed to studying abroad, study before you come abroad. Americans have a reputation for being ignorant of the world. Break that stereotype early by learning about where you will be living, the geography, and the people. Know the surrounding countries, know their ways of life, and know what language they speak.
2. Uses Only English
“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay at home.” – Kames Michener
If you do not think you can appreciate different language or culture, you are not learning. You don’t have to be perfectly fluent, but try to say hello in their language and listen to those that have different beliefs. Practice every chance you get – even if they speak back to you in English. Language ties people together. Learn as many as you can.
3. Hangs in their Comfort Zone
“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable…but to make its own people comfortable.” – Clifton Fadiman
Along the lines of understanding, also try to be a chameleon. At least taste the food (yes even brains!), buy funny looking shoes, see how it feels. No, it may not be “right” for you, but it will bring you farther out of your comfort zone and farther into theirs, and ultimately make your understanding of your host culture more robust.
4. Monica Gellar's Their Travels
“A journey is like a marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you can control it.” – John Steinbeck
No matter how many times you go over that impeccable timetable or made sure you set your alarm on AM not PM, your travel plans will go wrong. Accepting it is the first step. Bouncing back is the next. If you miss your flight, book another one and talk to someone next to you, the memory stuck in the airport may be more influential than the trip itself.
5. Carries Old Baggage
“When you’re traveling, you are what you are right there and then. People don’t have your past to hold against you. No yesterdays on the road.” – William Moon
Whether it is in a hostel, with your new study abroad crew, on a Bus2alps trip you signed up for solo, etc, going abroad is the chance to be who you truly are. They do not know your past or your dreams. They only know what you give them. Don’t fake it. This is possibly the only time in your life where you can be you.
6. Overdoses on Technology
“In total, users check their smart phones an average of 150 times during a waking day of 16 hours, the research found.” – IBNLive
Disconnect. Do not get that overseas plan. Don’t rush out to find WiFi. Documenting these experiences to share is wonderful, but there is a time and place. See the world through your eyes, not a screen. Try to go eat something wonderful, do something amazing, or see something incredibly beautiful and just appreciate it without posting it.
7. Hates on America
“A wise traveler never despises his own country.” – Carlo Goldoni
Always be proud of where you’re from. Never be embarrassed for the stereotypes that may be thrown at you. Instead, teach and prove them wrong. America is a great country that has a lot to offer those that both live there and travel there as a destination. No matter what, you are representing your country, as well as yourself, when you travel, so give it a good name and make people want to visit the US.
8. Forgets to Journal
“I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.” – Oscar Wilde
Every traveler should have a journal. Not a blog, but a journal to write down, with a pen on paper, your experiences. Chronicling your own thoughts as you immerse yourself in another culture is the "real you." This is your stripped-bare self, and will probably turn into your greatest souvenir from the trip.
9. Only Travels in Groups
"One travels more usefully when alone, because he reflects more." – Thomas Jefferson
Yes, it is wonderful traveling with others, especially people you care about. But it is extremely important to at least step off to the side for a second and think and travel by yourself. Realize how amazing it is for you to be in the place you are. Take in the sounds, the scenery, and make sure you are not taking this travel experience for granted. Breathe in, breathe out, and be thankful that you are alive, and that you are traveling.
10. Lets Fear Reign
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” – Mark Twain
Don’t miss out on opportunities because of fear or homesickness. Do everything you can in the amount of time you are abroad. Conquer phobias, chance on making new relationships, and stick your neck out wherever possible. Don’t hold back.
There you have it. From one former study abroad student to a future study abroad rockstar, consider these 10 common mistakes while studying abroad (and aim to eliminate these rotten habits!). Learn from this list, write it all down. Make sure you live your semester studying abroad with no regrets.
Your semester studying abroad is bound to be one of the best times in your life. Don't mess it up!