Studying abroad is likely one of the best decisions you’ll ever make. There is a lot that goes into it, though, so it is important to ensure you’re giving it enough thought. There are a few ways you can make your semester abroad as incredible as possible.
1. Choose the right destination for yourself
Do you want to live by the beach? In the mountains? In a major city, or a smaller village? Do you want to be somewhere people speak English, or would you rather challenge yourself by learning a new language? Is there a specific city or country with programs that fit well with your major?
These and many more considerations should be taken into account while deciding where you’d like to be. Chances are, wherever you end up, you’ll have an absolute blast. But this is a great opportunity to live in your dream city, you just have to figure out what that looks like for you.
2. And the right living situation
Similarly, you will likely have the choice between living with a host family, in an apartment with roommates, or in a student residence. Figuring out which option is the best for you is important, as it will likely determine a lot about your life in your home city.
Maybe you’d like to focus on getting a comprehensive cultural experience in your city, and you’d prefer to stay in a host family. Or, maybe you’d feel most comfortable rooming in an apartment with your friends. There are pros and cons to each type of living situation, so do some thinking to find which will work best for you.
3. Get to know your city – the real version
The Eiffel Tower, Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, and the London Eye are beautiful spots for a photo, but they’re about as authentic as their souvenir counterparts.
Instead, head to the neighborhoods where locals live, eat, drink, work, and shop. You’re probably staying in one. Go on walks with your friends, venture down streets you haven’t seen yet, let yourself get lost (with your phone charged of course – Google Maps is your friend). Whatever you do, do not stick to the tourist traps. Not only are they usually overpriced and overrated, but giving your money to them keeps it from local businesses who might actually need it.
4. Keep your eyes, ears, and mind open
They call it study abroad for a reason: you have the perfect opportunity to learn, whether that’s from a book or from experiencing life in a totally new culture. Absorb everything you can, both while wandering around your city and in your classes. Most likely you’ll learn some incredible things about European history, art, and culture from the classes you take abroad.
Seek out new experiences, too. Take a cooking class or head to a wine tasting to learn about local cuisine, or join a sports team. This is also a great way to do the following…
5. Meet new people (preferably locals)
If you’re studying with friends it can be especially hard to branch out and meet new people, from other international students to people from your city. But it is extremely important, because part of learning about a new culture involved learning about and getting to know the people in that culture!
Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean you have to throw your crew to the curb – you and your friends can all interact with locals together. The best way to do this is simply to put yourself out there. Opportunities are everywhere! Talk to people at the supermarket, at your local cafe or bar, at the beaches, parks, or river banks in your city. If you don’t speak the local language, learn a few basics and go for it, chances are the people you speak to will appreciate the effort (and will be able to speak English with you anyway!)
6. Travel, travel, travel
When you’re not exploring your new home, you’ll want to do as much traveling as you can. Flights throughout Europe are cheap and quick, so prepare to meet your new best friend: the weekender. Taking a proper weekender is an art. You don’t want to pack your itinerary, but you wanna make sure you hit the must-sees, and you’ll only have a long weekend to do it. Decide where you want to travel, and what experiences you want to have abroad, and work from there when planning.
7. Balance partying with… not partying
We get it. You’re set free, likely for the first time in your life, where you’re able to legally do more than you ever have. You’re sharing a continent with many of the greatest nightlife destinations in the world – Ibiza, Berlin, London, Budapest… with so many incredible party scenes waiting for you, it can be tough to balance partying with doing, well, anything else.
But it’s important, for the simple reason that you won’t be able to truly enjoy a city while you’re so hungover you can barely open your eyes (we’ve tried.) Instead, try to find a balance of going out a night or two (or, fine, three if you must) per week. Be sure to take good care of yourself before, during, and after drinking so that, come morning, you won’t feel so terrible that you waste a perfectly good day.
8. Make the memories last
Once you make the memories, you’ll want to keep them safe. I suggest recording everything any way you can. Log it in a journal, take tons of photos and videos, or start a travel Instagram account, even just for your own records. You’ll be glad you did when you’re back home and want to reminisce about the incredible time you had abroad.