Tag Archives | studying abroad

Image by The-Lane-Team, Flickr

Image by The-Lane-Team, Flickr

Having the chance to study abroad is definitely going to be a highlight of your post-secondary life. However, some people end their exchange feeling as if their time was too short to do anything spectacular. Follow these few tips to help maximize your experience while on exchange.

Set goals

Don’t end your exchange feeling like you’ve accomplished nothing. Make a list of everything you want to do. It can be as simple as using the tube in London or as adventurous as bungee jumping in Singapore. You can also challenge yourself to become conversationally fluent in the local language. Be as creative as you want! Don’t expect to complete everything on your list, but you can rest assured knowing that you’ve had plenty of new experiences.

Immerse yourself in the culture

Take a stroll through the city’s old district, learn about the country’s history, visit temples and ancient sites, and order food in the local language. Learn and experience as much as you can in your new surroundings. When in Rome, do as the Romans do (this idiom works even better if you’re actually in Rome)! By the end of your exchange, you should feel like one of the locals.

Make local friends

Speaking to and learning from locals can help you make your stay better. They’ll help you find the best restaurants, bars, places to visit, places to avoid and other important information only locals would know about.

Try the local food

Don’t be tempted to just grab a hamburger at a nearby fast-food restaurant. Make sure you try the local delicacies. If you can’t afford expensive restaurants, street food allows you to taste the local flavours at cheap prices. However, just like street food vendors at home, it’s best to make sure you aren’t purchasing your food from a place that looks unsanitary.

Keep a journal

It will help you reflect on your experiences and make you appreciate your time there a little more. Better yet, start a blog or a vlog. It’s a great way to keep your family and friends overseas updated.

Pace yourself

Don’t get yourself sick because you wanted to try all of Germany’s ales. Getting sick or even injured abroad is really expensive. Take caution when trying new things and make smart decisions.

Be mentally prepared

Being on exchange requires a lot of open-mindedness and independence. Don’t be surprised if you experience some sort of a culture shock. Different cultures have different lifestyles and attitudes. Be sure to read up on social customs beforehand to prepare yourself. Also, being far away from family and friends can make you feel very lonely. Beat the homesickness by getting out of your room and exploring. If you really need to, call mom and dad but try not to dwell too much on how much you miss home. You don’t want to be sad for most of your exchange.

Enjoy the little things

Not everything has to be blood-pumping adventures or fancy excursions. Find the joy from all the little things your host country has to offer. It can be the melodic way in which people speak, the fact that fresh ramen is always available just around the corner or the picturesque view of the sunset from your window. You might even enjoy il dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing). Cherish every second because these are the things you’re going to miss most!

Image by kthread, Flickr

Image by kthread, Flickr

Preparing to go on exchange isn’t that different from preparing to go on a trip. However, there are a few extra things you need to do before going on exchange. Don’t get caught unprepared in a different country by reviewing this list of exchange essentials: 

3 Months or More Before Leaving:

  • If necessary, apply for your passport and visa(s).
  • Get to know where you’re travelling. Read up on climate, transportation systems and tourist spots in guide books and on websites like Wikivoyage. This can help you figure out what you need and don’t need to pack.
  • Learn some key phrases and words in your host country’s language. Even though a lot of people around the world can understand some English, it never hurts to know how to ask for the nearest bathroom or for directions in local language.
  • Learn the culture’s social customs. Did you know that direct eye contact is considered rude in some Asian cultures? To avoid accidentally offending someone, Culture Crossing is a great website for learning the etiquette, taboos and gestures of different countries.
  • Create a budget. Allocate a specific amount of money to spend each week on food, entertainment, transportation and any other expenses. Use this to estimate how much you plan on spending for your whole term on exchange so you can start saving up now.

1-3 Months Before Leaving:

  • Get any necessary immunizations and prescriptions. If you require some sort of prescription medication, be sure to bring enough to last you for the whole trip. It is important to note that some medication that is available and legal at home may not be in other countries, so check beforehand that you can bring it. Keep a copy of the original prescription and a letter from your doctor describing the medical condition and any prescription medications, including the generic names of prescribed drugs with you. If you need to fill a prescription abroad, ask your program coordinator for help finding an English-speaking doctor.
  • Apply for a credit card that works around the world. Find one that has low foreign transaction fees or one that doesn’t have them at all.
  • Find the best way to communicate with others back home. If you need a cellphone, research your current provider’s fees for using your cellphone in a different country. Alternatively, consider getting an international cell phone or international phone card. You can save money by using apps like Skype and Viber to call or text home.

A Few Weeks Before Leaving:

  • Notify your bank that you are leaving. This prevents them from freezing your accounts, especially when you need it most.
  • Introduce yourself to fellow exchange students. Ask your program coordinator if it’s possible to contact your fellow exchange students beforehand. This can help make your first encounter less awkward and you can go straight to having fun and making memories with them.
  • If you’re staying with a host family, contact them before you leave. Get to know them and tell them about yourself. Get them a gift from your home country to thank them for letting you stay with them.
  • Pack light. You can live without all of your shoes and clothing for the next few months. Bring only the essentials. This will also save room in your suitcase for anything you may buy during your exchange. With that being said, make sure to pack any necessities. This includes a power adapter or voltage converter so you can plug in your camera or laptop. If you’re away for more than one season, you may need to bring a jacket and boots but also shorts and flip flops. Don’t forget that you’re there to study! Bring some school supplies so you don’t waste money buying it there.