I'll start out by saying that my experience studying abroad may be different than some. As a student at Miami University, I decided to participate in the Miami University Dolibois European Center (MUDEC) program located in Luxembourg. Being located in Luxembourg, I was able to travel to six other countries during the semester, usually on weekend trips.
If you're studying in a larger country such as Spain or France, you may have more central experiences than my own. But here are some general tips on how to get the most out of your study abroad experience!
1. Expect something to go wrong
Okay, I know this seems a bit pessimistic at first. But when you're traveling in a different country and in an environment that you're not used to — something is going to go wrong. Most of the time it won't be your fault, like public transportation making you late for a connection or someone you're traveling with forgetting an important document.
When things go wrong, you will probably feel panicked at first. You're in a new country, surrounded by people who speak another language, away from your support system. But the more experience you gain, the less panicked you become. Things going wrong is a reality and the best thing to do is take the issue on with patience and acceptance, knowing that even though something went wrong, it doesn't mean the world will end. So take a deep breath and learn something from the experience!
2. Reach out to people
Going into the semester, I was nervous about making new friends in my study abroad program. I only knew two people going into the program out of about one hundred and twenty people. But as time went on, I met so many incredible people with different personalities, cultures, and interests. I became more connected with my roommate, one of the people I knew before the program after living with her and traveling with her every weekend.
Reaching out to people in your program, those around you, and your housemates is the foundation for being confident when reaching out to strangers in places you visit, from hostel bars to cooking classes. The friendships that you make while studying abroad are unique, as this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the people that you meet along the way are definitely a part of that. Reach out to people that you think would be fun to travel with and talk about the things you'd like to focus on throughout the program during the first few weeks to find people with similar goals!
3. Use your language skills
You don't know how beneficial learning a different language from your native one is until you study abroad. While staying in Luxembourg, I've tried using my very basic Duolingo French skills. Although it can be a bit of a let down when you, let's say, order a coffee in your host country's language and the barista continues the conversation in English, keep trying! The locals of the country appreciate your effort.
Being immersed in another country's language and culture for multiple months can be a once in a lifetime opportunity, and as time goes on you will improve! I studied Spanish throughout middle and high school as well as college, so being able to use what I've learned during my weekend trip in Madrid was an amazing experience. Although my pronunciation wasn't the best, it was still great being able to communicate with people throughout the weekend. I would definitely encourage you to advance your language skills and use them while studying abroad, don't be nervous!
4. Experience the beauty of hostels
I'll admit — hostels can be good and bad. If you're in a mixed room with people you don't know, some loud snoring or unwanted noise during the nights can happen. Living in a shared space with strangers can be intimidating and weird at first. But as a college student on a budget, staying in hostels was by far the most interesting and fun accommodation while traveling.
Most hostel goers are respectful travelers like yourself and from all over the world, so talking with your temporary roommates and other people in the shared areas can lead to interesting conversations. Hostels are an affordable, backpacker friendly option for weekend excursions. It's important to keep track of your belongings though; you wouldn't want to lose anything while snoozing!
5. Stay connected to home
This is probably one of the hardest things to accomplish while being abroad, but it's also very important. It can be difficult juggling your different roles while studying abroad, staying involved with your commitments on your home campus with your family and friends, and trying to experience new things throughout your program. But staying connected to your home country and culture can make you feel less isolated while studying abroad and decrease your chance of getting homesick!
By sending texts throughout the week, calling your family and friends when you can, and reaching out to campus organizations about commitments, you're communicating with your support system. This is a crucial change of studying abroad: you are separated from your main support system and thrown into a new environment. Staying connected while abroad will help you feel centered as you experience things and travel places you never thought you would!
P.S. Sending people postcards is the perfect way to show them your travels and that you care!