12 Tips for Studying Abroad

Posted March 13, 2015 by
Sarah Landrum photo

Sarah Landrum

It hits you the moment the plane touches down – you’re in a new country, and an exciting journey is about to begin.

Studying abroad is filled with new places, people and experiences that will teach you things you cannot learn in your homeland. It can also be a bit overwhelming at times, but no worries. Here are 12 tips to help you make the most of your time abroad:

1. Open Your Mind (as Wide as Possible)

You’re in a new world. Things will be different. Routines will change, and you will see, hear and taste things you haven’t before. Approach them all with an open mind and recognize the unique beauty that each place offers.

2. Prepare and Pre-study

To make your first few weeks less intimidating, do a bit of research. Learn about the culture, the area and search online for eye-witness accounts of what to expect. Guard your passport with your life! Make copies, both paper and electronic, and keep a small cash hoard safe.

3. Become the Most Attentive Student You Can Be

I’m talking about more than the confines of a classroom. Take in as much as you can, whether it’s the setting, the way people talk and act toward each other or the little things that make a culture so unique. Besides factual knowledge, you’ll develop key observational and interpersonal abilities.

4. Immerse Yourself in the Culture

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. OK, you don’t have to do exactly as they do, but ask around and see what people do on a regular basis, like where they go to eat and what activities they enjoy. Listen to their popular music. Read their newspapers and practice their phrases. Allow yourself to fully explore the culture by becoming part of it.

5. Test Your Language Skills

What better way to learn a new language than in a place where you’re constantly surrounded by it? Start out slowly by practicing in restaurants and stores, and then progress to casual conversation if possible. You’ve now got a great resume booster.

6. Make Local Connections

Having friends in different countries benefits you both personally and professionally. Besides the great memories you’ll share, you can also network yourself should you desire to search for a job overseas. It’s often about who you know, and those connections will get you started.

7. Take Traveling in Small Doses

With a backpack over your shoulder and a map to guide you, it’s tempting to head out right away and see everything as if there’s no tomorrow. Instead, go slowly and savor each location. Get settled into your home base before exploring unfamiliar territory.

8. Think Outside the Travel Guide

Travel guides promise lots of adventure with their colorful pictures and recommendations, but sometimes these turn out to be tourist traps. Touristy things can be just as exciting, but for an authentic look at what contemporary life is like, ask the locals what places you should see. They might recommend hidden spots you won’t find on a map.

9. Step into a Routine

Once your passionate affair with a new place has settled, do as you would at home by creating your personal routine. Become a regular at a local café. Pick a trail for a daily run. This shows how comfortable you’ve become and will help you make long-term connections with locals.

10. Translate Your Portfolio of Work

Just as foreigners would get a credential evaluation before applying for jobs, you should see that your documents are understood and properly represented. This prevents the language barrier, shows your consideration and gives you a networking advantage. See if a friend or professional translation service can help you.

11. Express Gratitude Always

“Thank you” is such a small and widely used phrase, but it’s so important. For everyone who helps you or gives you their time, let them know how much you appreciate it. Better yet, thank them in their language.

12. Add the Experience to Your Resume

Let employers know that you’ve been somewhere different. The experience will likely change you and give you new sets of skills. Think about what they are and how they apply to future jobs. Maybe you overcame a challenge? Learned how to communicate in spite of the language barrier? There’s plenty to choose from.

Bonus Tip: Don’t Be Afraid to Explore

Some people end up staying in their rooms with the door closed when they go abroad. Encourage yourself to get outside your comfort zone and explore the unknown. You’ll be surprised how much you grow when you let it happen.

Sarah Landrum is a freelance writer and founder of Punched Clocks sharing advice on navigating the job search and having a happy and successful career. She is a Penn State alum with a passion for travel and living life to the fullest. Follow Sarah for more great advice and the occasional punny joke @SarahLandrum

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