How to make the most of study abroad

Photo credit: Briana Mcdaniel

Photo credit: Briana Mcdaniel

Few things will make your head spin faster than stepping off a plane into an unfamiliar country.

I studied abroad in Viterbo, Italy for two semesters. All the preparation, contemplation, research and advice may never fully prepare you for your initial feeling of immersion.

That being said, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your experience while staying present and sane.


1. Be open-minded

You are not at home. At home, you often know how to react to social situations, your sense of self feels secure. The second you step into another culture, you must be ready to soak up everything it has to offer.

Try new things, but you don’t have to change everything in your daily routine. In the words of Jack Kornfield, “learn to take what is good.”

2. Keep busy

When I arrived in Italy, downtime was not an option. The world around me felt surreal. My mind was active. Tall buildings, classic Vespas and endless fountains whipped my attention back and forth.

Unfamiliarity may cause fear and anxiety. Let movement be your coping mechanism, it will only help you soak up more.

3. Befriend the locals

Do not be the co-dependent group of Americans that sit in the corner of a bar like a closed club in a middle school cafeteria. In many cases, the study abroad programs you will travel with have been sending students overseas for years.

Locals know about you. If they engage you, remember that nobody will show you a better, more authentic experience.

4. Stay in the moment

You will never have an experience like this again. Remember that.

While many people will travel overseas again in their lifetime, study abroad gives you immense freedom with a lot of support. Appreciate it.

5. A little planning goes a long way, but be careful

Planning your travels abroad will no doubt help you make the most of your time—but be flexible. Things do not always go according to plan and just because you did not plan an experience does not mean it is not worth your time.

Go with the flow, leave ample time for delays when booking trips. Public transportation can be confusing and slow.

6. Respect your surroundings

Learn to read a crowd and gauge your behavior accordingly. Nothing is more off-putting to locals than an obnoxious crowd of ethnocentric Americans who fail to realize that they will not conform to the norms found in a Chico house party.

Studying abroad in college will change your life. No two people will have exactly the same experience, but everyone comes back having gained something.

Grant Schmieding can be reached at [email protected] or @G_Schmieding on Twitter.