If you ask anyone about their study abroad experience, they’re usually going to follow up with something positive such as “amazing,” “incredible” or “the best time of my life.” When you’re a recently admitted study abroad student, it makes you more excited about the upcoming trip, but you may still find yourself with a ton of questions. As someone who just returned from studying abroad this past spring, I even find it a bit difficult to answer questions for others because I have to filter through four months of information. In thinking about what I’ve learned since then, I’ve thought of some things I wish I had known or taken advantage of while I was abroad, and I hope this will provide assistance to those about to start their journey:
1. Student discounts exist! Study abroad is not a cheap expenditure so you have to find the best deals. It may seem like a weird question to ask in another country, but student discounts do exist! You’ll be surprised how many places have them so don’t be afraid to ask, even at restaurants.
2. If there’s something you really want to do and you’re going with other people, make sure they’re just as excited as you are. It’s never a good time trying to enjoy something with people who don’t enjoy it as much as you, because you spend more time worried about if they’re having a good time than enjoying yourself. If there’s something you really want to do or see, even if you’re traveling, it’s best to get a group consensus on the matter. In the event that it’s not on anyone else’s to-do list, go alone if you’re able to and if you feel safe doing so.
3. Sometimes it’s best to just go out with no more than two to four people. To go off of number two, the only thing more frustrating than being the odd one out on an agreement is when no one can agree on anything. You’ll waste a lot of time when no one is committing to an idea so try to stick to small groups. It also comes in handy when you go out to eat to avoid waiting for a big table to open up and when/if you go out at night.
4. Take advantage of student nights at your university or nearby university for mingling with locals your own age. If there’s one thing I wish I had done differently, it would have been going to student nights at the nearby university. In the London Communication program, you only take classes with the people in your program and the classes are not in an English university. While it’s incredibly beneficial to get to know people in your program, don’t let it stop you from taking advantage of opportunities specifically designed for college students to meet each other! Think of it as another form of welcome week.
5. If you’re planning to travel, plan as early as possible for the best prices and accommodation availability. This can be hit or miss depending on if you already know people you want to travel with. If you do, plan flights and housing accommodations as early as possible. If you’re late with the planning process, there are still ways to travel at cheaper rates. Speak to your on-site program advisers for traveling tips or even to someone who has been in the program before.
6. In contrast, try not to travel every weekend or you may miss out on seeing the country you’re living in. Being in class for the duration of the week and leaving to another country every weekend sounds like the best plan, but not only is it exhausting, it limits your exploration in your host country. For many, study abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so naturally you’ll want to travel as much as you can. Just be sure to also look into places for day trips within your country or try to do some exploring during the week.
7. Don’t be afraid to do things by yourself, as long as you’re taking normal safety precautions. This depends on which country you’re staying in. I was lucky enough to be in a very safe housing environment and a safe city overall, so walking to places alone at various times of the day and night was not an issue. If you’re planning to move away from group activities, take your normal safety precautions like walking in lit and populated areas, walking without headphones, keeping your bag closed, and generally being aware of your surroundings. If you don’t feel safe, make sure you have service or can connect to WiFi, or find a populated area should you need to ask for help.
8. A reusable grocery bag goes a long way. As we’ve seen in America, many places charge for grocery bags. This is a reality abroad as well. When packing for your trip, be sure to include at least one reusable grocery bag. Not only will you save money, you won’t have to carry a lot of bags. You also may not be guaranteed to be close to a grocery store, so having one bag that can carry multiple things will make the trip a lot easier.
9. Sign up for the mailing list for places you frequent to get the best discounts. If you’re someone who ignores your email, this is definitely not for you. If you’re someone who’s all about promotions and chances to get discounts, keep reading. Many places, especially chains, send out promotional emails daily. The emails will get annoying, but there’s always a chance to get discounted or even FREE stuff. I even signed up for a mailing list for a nightclub and every Tuesday night, I could get in for £1 (about $1.50)! If you ever get annoyed with the emails, you can always unsubscribe. This goes for rewards cards at grocery stores and restaurants as well.
10. Take pictures of yourself with everything! Yes, we are the generation who gets criticized for taking selfies and posting pictures on social media, but we are also the generation with the most students being offered the opportunity to study abroad and taking it! Take pictures of and with everything. Your memories can then be tangible and it will feel more real when you come back.
Enjoy your trip abroad! It’s an unforgettable experience!