Studying abroad is an amazing experience – which is something you’ve probably been told by anyone who’s studied abroad. But, like any other experience, your time abroad will be what you make of it. While there are tons of opportunities to make your time abroad an amazing experience, there are also opportunities for it to go awry, and you may not realize it until the deed has been done. Lucky for you, we’ve gathered advice from collegiettes who have studied abroad to help you make the most of your time and avoid the common pitfalls. Here are the nine most common study abroad mistakes to avoid!
1. Not budgeting your money
Everyone knows that studying abroad can be expensive, but there are always ways to save. Budgeting your money before you even get to your destination is the first step to avoiding spending too much.
“One of my biggest regrets was not budgeting myself from the beginning,” says Carolyn Mullen, a senior at Saint Joseph’s University, who studied abroad in Italy. “I was so excited when I got to Rome that I didn’t even think about my spending!”
Start off on the right foot by creating a budget for yourself. Set aside a certain amount per week for groceries, travel expenses and fun things. Starting from the beginning will allow you to disperse your budget, making sure that you don’t run out halfway through the semester!
“I wish I spent less money on shopping and more on experiences,” says Emily Smoot, a junior at Clemson University who studied in London. It’s inevitable that your budget will be drained, but at least make sure the money is going where you want it to go. Cute shops and department stores are tempting, but think about the regrets you’ll have when you arrive home with an extra suitcase but not many memorable experiences. Cut your budget down on the shopping expenses and allot yourself a little more for travels and experiences.
2. Not traveling enough
Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so make sure you take advantage of the opportunities! If you’re in a European country, consider jetting away to London or Paris – cities that aren’t too far away – for a weekend while you have the chance. If you don’t take advantage of the cheap and easy travel, you might end up regretting it when you return home and are itching to leave. Living in a different country isn’t only an opportunity to experience one culture, but also an opportunity to visit several.
“Even though my budget didn’t [always] allow for it, I wish I had traveled a bit more,” Emily says.
You often don’t get the chance to jet away when we’re at home, so make sure you don’t regret missing out on the unique opportunity. We know traveling is expensive, but there are ways around the hefty costs. Spend less money on going out and save up for a weekend trip. Plan early and take advantage of budget airlines, buses and trains. Stay in hostels instead of checking yourself into a hotel. There are tons of ways to cut down on travel expenses, so don’t let the big numbers get you down!
3. Not meeting new people
When you’re getting ready to go abroad, it’s hard to keep from dreaming of all the charming foreign friends you’re going to meet – but unfortunately that’s not always how it goes. A lot of study abroad programs group Americans and other international students together, so it can be hard to branch out. Keeping to yourself and your group of friends can hinder your experience, so be sure to make an effort to socialize with the locals!
Elise Chaffiotte, a senior at the University of Scranton who studied in Florence for a month, says that she traveled around with a group of girls from school, and as a result, ended up spending most of her time with them. “Having them as a safety net, I didn’t really branch out to become friends with the locals,” she says.
There’s nothing wrong with sharing your study abroad experience with friends from home, but try to take advantage of the situation and befriend locals and other international students. “I met and became friends with students from other U.S. schools, [and] even though I was with mostly Americans, I feel like I really submerged myself into Italian culture,” Elise says.
Try to branch out by putting yourself out there, remaining open-minded and immersing yourself in the culture!
4. Not immersing yourself in the culture
Speaking of which – not immersing yourself in the culture of your study abroad country is another pitfall to avoid. It’s easy to slip into habits from home and end up locking yourself in your room with snacks and a good rom-com, so try to avoid that at all costs. You only have a small amount of time in this country, so do your best to take advantage of what it has to offer!
Elise points out that immersing yourself in the culture is a really important aspect of studying abroad. “Waking up to go to the morning market, going to the local bars and eating the cuisine of the area – it's best to participate in local activities as if you actually lived there,” she says.
Elise says that even though she wasn’t fluent in Italian, she still tried to speak the language. “Even if you only speak at a beginner level, you should still try to speak their language,” she says. “You’re in their county, so it is best to try!”
Immerse yourself in your new country’s culture by checking out local events, eating the signature foods and trying your hand at speaking the language.
5. Not taking risks
Studying abroad is an experience you only have once, so do your best to make the most of it! It’s a time to explore new places and experience things you might not have a chance to in your home country. In reality, what you’ll probably regret most are the things you didn’t do – so take risks!
“I made the best of my experience by embracing new things,” Elise says. “Instead of second-guessing myself and turning down opportunities, I said yes.”
If you’re offered an opportunity to travel to a nearby city or even just go out for drinks with the locals, say yes! You’re more likely to regret the opportunities that you didn’t take than the ones that you did. “Take advantage of every and any opportunity you get,” Elise says. “[After all], you're only abroad for so long!”
6. Not exploring your host city
While you should consider how easy it might be to jet off to another city for the weekend, it’s also a good idea to get to know your new home. It’s not every day that you’ll be able to pick up your life and move yourself to a new city, so make sure to explore your temporary home while you can.
A number of collegiettes who studied abroad regret not spending their time exploring their new city. “I wish I had found little hole-in-the-wall random stores and coffee shops,” Emily says. “Just by walking along streets [I could have wandered] into whatever I came to.”
Semesters abroad are notoriously easy in the academic department (though not for everyone!), so take advantage of your free time between school and travels to get to know your new town. Take walks, look up hidden gems and explore the nooks and crannies of your city.
7. Partying too much
A younger drinking age and plethora of bars and clubs can be tempting to incoming Americans, but make sure you’re not spending too much time at the pub! Not only can partying drain your wallet and hinder your health, but it can have a negative impact on your whole experience. Emily says she wishes she had “gone out more during the day and a little less at night.” Sure, exploring your city’s nightlife is an important part of your experience, but make sure it’s not taking up all of your nights!
If you want to get your party fix, invite friends to your apartment for drinks and snacks to save time and money. Going out once in a while won’t hurt, but try not to make a habit out of it!
8. Taking class too seriously
Now don’t get us wrong, class is a very important aspect of studying abroad (hence the “studying” part of the phrase), but keep in mind that academics aren’t the only reason why you’re there. You’re much more likely to look back on your travels and new friends rather than the essays you turned in! It’s important to be a part of your school and observe how education varies in different cultures, but don’t stress too much about classwork.
Emily’s advice for future study abroad students is to not worry so much about school. “I know that sounds crazy, but a huge part of the study abroad experience is meeting new people, trying new things and visiting new places,” she says. While you should no doubt be doing your work and attending exams, don’t be afraid to prioritize new experiences.
“The whole experience is completely eye-opening and exciting, [and] you don’t want to miss out on something that’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Emily says.
9. Putting your health on the backburner
Luxurious flights? New destinations? Sounds like a vacation, right? Wrong! Studying abroad can feel like a getaway at times, but you shouldn’t always treat it like a holiday. Make sure you keep up with your healthy habits and workout regimen. “It [might] feel like a vacation, but it’s still important to work out,” Carolyn says. “Even just a walk or run around the city [can burn off a few extra calories]!”
It’s easy to develop new habits in a new location, so make sure those habits are positive (like eating healthy and working out regularly) rather than negative (like eating gelato and hitting the pub every day). Go out on exploratory walks, join a gym or go for a quick run in the local park to work off those extra calories. You won’t regret it when you return home in tip-top shape!
With that said, it’s time to have a fulfilling study abroad experience! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so take advantage of it and try not to suffer the common pitfalls. Follow these collegiettes’ advice for a satisfying and regret-free study abroad experience!