You’ve gotten admission to study abroad.
You’re in for one of the most exciting and fulfilling experiences of your life. You’ll get to interact and make friends with people from all over the world, explore different cities in the host country, immerse yourself in a new culture, and perhaps learn a new language.
However, studying abroad isn’t all rainbows and butterflies. The experience can be challenging—international students often suffer from loneliness and homesickness. Studies show that international students are at greater risk of suffering from depression than their local peers.
To make the most of the study abroad experience, you need to have a positive attitude and an action plan. To help you formulate an action plan, let’s explore some of the best ways you can make your study abroad period truly special:
Research the Location and the Local Culture Before Traveling
Moving from a familiar culture to an unfamiliar one can lead to culture shock. Foreign customs, a new language, unfamiliar climate, and strange social rules can leave you more stressed out than you’d think.
Researching your study destination and the local culture is one of the best ways to prepare yourself. Here are some ideas:
- Watch movies set in the country
- Read books by local authors
- Research the local cuisine
- Listen to music by popular local artistes
- Research the cultural norms and expectations
- Investigate the local history and current events
- Study the local language and dialect
Doing these things will help you start building a connection with the local culture—even before you set foot on the plane. Being prepared will also minimize the likelihood of unpleasant surprises.
Keep an open mind. Don’t arrive in your country of study with a mind full of stereotypes and unfair expectations. Try not to think of your ways of doing things as superior to how things are done in your host culture. Go with the flow and enjoy the experience.
Create a Bucket List for Your Study Abroad Experience
Despite being in a new environment, it’s easy to get stuck in your comfort zone. You’re likely to find yourself hanging out only with other African students, avoiding unfamiliar foods, and not taking the opportunity to explore local attractions.
Don’t be that student.
To boost the chances of falling in love with the study abroad experience and your host country, it’s important to push yourself out of your comfort zone. Ask yourself “What do I want to get out of this experience?”
Then come up with a list of goals you’d like to achieve—starting with academic to more adventurous goals. Having some goals to achieve will keep you focused both inside and outside the classroom. And before you know it, it will be time for graduation.
Your bucket list can include categories such as places to visit, people to meet, and things to do
Here are some examples of bucket list goals:
- Visit a famous museum
- Join a specific organization in the university
- Learn the local language
- Visit an important historical site
- Write an article for the local newspaper
- Attend the local fair
- Go skydiving
- Learn how to ski
- Meet a local celebrity
To come up with a bucket list, reflect on your passions and interests. In researching the destination and the local culture, what tickled your fancy? Which local attractions would you like to visit? How would you like to be involved in your campus and the local community?
Make the Most Out of the Orientation Period
Colleges and universities usually have an orientation period for incoming students. At most colleges, the orientation period lasts 1–3 days. However, at some colleges, orientation can be a week-long affair.
The orientation period gives new students a chance to:
- Explore the campus
- Meet the faculty
- Talk to academic advisors
- Learn about valuable resources
- Connect with other students
To get the most out of the study abroad experience, make sure you’re fully involved during the orientation period. This is the time to learn about your school and start building important relationships.
Be fully present during programs, even when they seem pointless. Usually, college orientation programs consist of:
- Campus tours
- Information sessions
- Selecting class schedule
- Social activities to help students connect
Trust that the admissions office has thoughtfully planned the orientation program to benefit all incoming students. Listen to the advice shared, ask questions, and make the effort to connect with other students.
Make Meaningful Relationships While Studying Abroad
Speaking of connections, the study abroad experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make lasting relationships with peers from all over the world. Studies show that friendships built in college are likely to last a lifetime.
Even if you’re shy and introverted, make the effort to get to know your peers, the faculty, and other people in and outside your campus. Word to the wise: most people are happy to talk about themselves and their interests. All you have to do is ask the right questions and take an active listening role.
That said, you must also open yourself up to others. Confidently introduce yourself to others and share about your experiences and interests. Be genuine and authentic.
Take your time in college to hone your networking skills in readiness for the corporate environment. Keep track of your important connections.
The majority of recent graduates and post-graduate professionals advance their careers and get job leads through networking. Your networking begins at orientation, continues during the course of the study program, and follows you throughout your career.
Share Your Study Abroad Experience
There are many students looking for authentic study abroad experiences. You can share your story to inspire and inform other students. Consider sharing various aspects of your study abroad experience through:
- Writing a personal blog
- Creating short videos on TikTok
- Creating longer videos for YouTube
- Writing an article for the student newspaper
- Becoming a mentor
Sharing your experiences helps you reflect and figure out what you’re learning. It’s also a great way to connect with other international students from all over the world.
What if you don’t like sharing your experience publicly? In that case, you can opt to keep a private journal. A journal will help you reflect, keep track of important events, and record special memories for your future self. Consider adding photographs and videos to your journal entries to bring your memories to life.