As you probably already know, traveling is my favorite thing to do especially when I’m traveling internationally, so when studying abroad became a viable opportunity for me I took full advantage of it. I spent a summer in Barcelona, Spain studying Spanish language & culture while actually immersing myself in said language & culture. It was the educational experience of a lifetime – one that left profound effects on my personality as well as my outlook on the world.
While studying abroad can be a wonderful experience for many students who take advantage of its many opportunities, it can also pose a substantial amount of unknowns, specifically for students who have never traveled abroad. Below I’ve compiled my dos & don’ts of studying abroad and helpful facts in the hopes that some of those unknowns will be alleviated!
Do: take your classes seriously
Some students get so caught up in the abroad experience that they completely forget that the purpose of studying abroad is to further your education. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement that is studying abroad, but sometimes you just have to pull in the reins and get your classwork completed. It will be a much more rewarding program if you study and come home with course credit and tons of memories.
Don't: be closed-minded
This may seem cliche and obvious, but being closed-minded can kill any journey abroad. And by "closed-minded" I don't simply mean be open to new ideas, but also be open to new people, ways of life, and beliefs. To fully understand the people you’re interacting with and the places that you’re traveling to you must try to understand their way of doing things, even though their way may be different from yours.
Do: travel outside of your host city
Traveling outside of Barcelona was one of my favorite parts of my education abroad experience. I had the chance to travel through the South of France, through Costa Brava, around Catalonia, and to Paris, Munich, & Salzburg. The close proximity and smaller size (in comparison to the US) of the countries in Europe make for easy international travel and supply endless opportunities to get out of your comfort zone. Take advantage of your location!
Don't: spend too much time outside of your host city
Although traveling outside of your host city is important, spending time in the city is just as necessary. The desire to travel can oftentimes sweep you up, and traveling outside of your host city can cause you to miss out on experiencing the city that you’re living in. While I was in Barcelona, I tried to spend weekdays after class out and about in the city. We toured Park Guell, sunbathed at the beach, wandered through the Gothic District, visited Montjuic, and so much more while we were in the city. On the weekends we traveled. Find your happy medium of exploring your host city and venturing through the rest of the outside region.
Do: research your host city & surrounding region
Researching Barcelona, my host city, helped me immensely in terms of culture shock, what to expect, things to do, what to wear, and how to stay safe. Barcelona – and much of Europe for that matter – has a high volume of pickpockets. By conducting research I was able to be prepared for this, and I knew how to prevent it. I didn't get pickpocketed once! My research also prepared me for planning purposes. I knew that there were several things I wanted to see in Barcelona – such as the Picasso Museum & Park Guell – and by investigating I knew when and how to best visit them.
Don't: be afraid to meet new people
This is one that I struggle with personally, but I try my best to overcome! Meeting new people can be tough, particularly when you’re in a new, unfamiliar place. Don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation or venture out on an excursion with a new group. This is part of what makes education abroad so much fun! You end up with friends from all over the US, and the world. Pretty awesome.
Do: immerse yourself into local culture
Do as the locals do! This is one of my favorite parts of traveling; I love to get a taste of how the locals live on a day-to-day basis. Don’t simply go to tourist-y nightclubs or visit huge museums – go to local hangouts, eateries, & galleries, use local transit, and speak the language when you have the opportunity. Get as involved in resident activities. Immersing yourself into the local culture can be just as important as what you're learning in class.
Things to remember...
Helpful fact #1: The countries’ cultures will be different from your own (even if they speak English, too)
This reality hit me when I went to Australia, and not specifically when I studied abroad, but had I not known this prior to studying abroad I would have been completely overwhelmed. I thought that Australian culture would be similar to America's; in my naive mind, since the two countries spoke the same language they would be similar. I couldn't have been more wrong. Don't get me wrong, there are similarities but the two countries are completely different.
Helpful fact #2: There will be elements of culture shock, even if you've traveled abroad a million times
When I decided to study abroad, I had traveled out of the US a couple of times and thought it would be simple as pie. Again, I was naive. Spending a month in Spain opened my eyes to the fact that culture shock is a real thing and is inevitable no matter how much international experience you have. You're going to feel awkward, out of place, and weird. This is a good thing! It means you're getting out of your comfort zone and immersing yourself into your host culture. Keep at it! It'll be worth it in the end.
Helpful fact #3: Sometimes the little things are better than the iconic monuments
In Barcelona, some of my favorite memories are simply running to the Metro with my friend Ellen to catch the train to make it to class on time. Sure, I had a great time at the Picasso Museum and wandering through Park Guell and diving into the Mediterranean, but sometimes the little moments when I was enjoying time with friends were just as good as - if not better than - seeing a famous landmark. Enjoy the little things.
Hi, I'm Madeline
Blogger, teacher, writer, traveler, reader. Welcome to Mad's Muses!
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