If you know me in real life, I have probably forced you to listen to me blab about my study abroad year. Yes, I know its annoying. No, I can’t stop. My sophomore year I had the privilege of spending the full year attending Northumbria University in Newcastle, a town in Northeast England. And not to be terribly cliché, but it was by far the best 11 months of my life. Through my travels, I picked up a few do’s and don’ts to help the next students ready for the adventure of their lifetimes. Buckle up kids, the road is bumpy but oh so worth it.
1. DON'T be scared of a long-term program!
I know what you’re thinking- a year is a long time to be away from the life you know. And you are right. I can’t pretend like it wasn’t a challenge to be away from America, and all of my friends and family here, for such a long time. I spent my first Christmas away from my mom, my first New Year without my friends from home, and my first Thanksgiving without a turkey. But what I can tell you, is that it was worth it. I spent Christmas having a traditional celebration in the south of Spain, my New Year partying in a hotel in Switzerland with new friends, and a Thanksgiving with my roommates from all over the world sharing dishes from each of our home countries. Trust me when I say these are memories I will take to my grave. Studying for such a long time somewhere new not only lets you make more memories, but it lets you actually live in a new culture. It did not feel like tourism, it felt like residency. By the end of the year, we felt a part of the Geordie culture, not just like we had visited somewhere for three weeks. It gave us so much time to grow as individuals and experience every single thing that we could. Believe me when I say that 11 months felt like 11 weeks when it came time to come back across the pond.
2. DO pack lightly!
I know this seems like a simple one- of course you would pack lightly for an international flight. I thought that I had packed lightly until it was time to come home. You accumulate so much stuff throughout your study abroad that you will need the extra space in your suitcase. The style is so different from place to place you will want to buy new clothes, new travel accessories you see that you need, and souvenirs from your adventures to remind you of your time there. Pack only the absolute essentials, and thank me when it’s time to come back home.
3. DON'T be shy!
I will be the first to admit that I am an introvert. Generally, I don’t approach people unless they approach me. The thing is, if you are forced into a new country where you know no one, the extrovert in you will be pushed forward. People will be happy to help you out, you just have to talk to them first! Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with a classmate, a roommate, or just someone in the coffee shop. You will be surprised how many connections you can make.
4. DO be a "yes" person!
At the orientation for my study abroad program, they had students from previous years speak. One of them told us to say yes to everything, and that turned out to be the best advice I got. Not to say you should be dangerous- everything should be in reason. But when someone invites you on an adventure, or to go try something new say yes! Say yes to things that put you out of your comfort zone, things you never thought you could do. Because now is the time to do it. What happens on a study abroad, stays abroad. So, do some crazy fun things, or you will regret it when its back to reality.
5. DON'T take too many classes!
This one depends on what you want to get out of your study abroad. For me, I was there to travel and experience as much of the culture as I could, not so much to focus on school. Not to say I encourage you to slack off- often times schools in different countries have classes that are more difficult than the ones we are used to. That being said, I would encourage you to take the minimum classes required for your program. The last thing you will want to be doing is sitting up in your room studying while your friends are out experiencing the culture.
6. DO get involved on campus!
This is an option if you do decide to do a long-term study abroad like I did- to get involved in an organization on campus. There are several opportunities to get involved at most universities, whether it be on a sports team or in a club. I joined the Northumbria Drama Society, and not only did I get to perform in a play first semester, but second semester I got to direct my own play. Getting to teach my British peers an American accent and show them a peak into American theater was one of the things I am most proud of in my life. Not only did it introduce me to several amazing people, it made me feel more of a part of the student population there. So, go get a brochure for some clubs and go to the sessions! It will help you feel a part of a bigger community.
7. DON'T let finances stop you!
The biggest thing I hear from people who are thinking of studying abroad is that they don’t think they can afford it. You can travel on a budget! I am by no means well off- I use loans and work 30 hours a week to put myself through school. It is all about what you value the most. For me, that was getting out and seeing the world while I was young. My program was an exchange, which means my HOPE covered my tuition costs. On top of that, I applied for scholarships to help cut down the cost. For the rest, you can use loans. To travel I slept on overnight trains, stayed in grubby hostels with 20 strangers in a room, ate peanut butter and banana sandwiches for two meals a day- but I did it. My experiences are priceless, and I would not have traded them for the world.