How to Maximize Your Study Abroad Experience

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Make the most of every opportunity. Don’t be vague and thoughtless, but live accurately and purposefully. Ephesians 5:15-17
I studied abroad in Nantes, France for eight months (from September to April 2015). Without a doubt, it was one of the best experiences of my life. To this day, I can still remember how excited and terrified I felt about my trip. I remember the amount of hours I spent creating packing lists, reading blogs, and watching YouTube videos of other students and their experiences abroad.

After watching these videos and reading these posts, I still felt like there was some advice that was missing. I realized that they were all subject to hindsight biases.

The La Vie en Rose effect:

La vie en rose effect of studying abroad
We only reminisce about the good times and the highlights and forget to pass on information about the challenges. I promised myself I would try to gather, record, and share some practical wisdom while on my exchange for other students preparing for a semester or year abroad. So without further adieu, here are my top five secrets for maximizing your study abroad experience:

#1. Write a list of goals.

Before you embark on your trip, write a list of personal and academic accomplishments. For example, if you want to work on your accent, vocabulary, oral expression, etc., write them down to add a sense of accountability for your actions. Try to remember why you're going abroad in the first place and remember how great of an opportunity you have in front of you. Research the region you are in and draft a list of places you want to go and things you want to see. It may seem like you have all the time in the world, but time will fly by so quickly! Of course, you can add more goals as you go along, but the earlier you start, the better.

#2. Document everything!

Do you like to write? Make a blog. Is photography your thing? Take a ton of photos! Don't listen to what other people say and bring your nice camera abroad. It's worth the hassle. Plus, these photos are for a lifetime. Get a journal or start a blog. It's a great way to remember names and distant places you might have forgotten otherwise. Then, once you're home, you can always look back and see how much you've grown and how things have changed.

#3. It's okay to be (a little) selfish. 

If you're studying abroad with a group of students from your own country or university, don't feel obligated to spend 100% of your time with them. Sounds harsh? Not really, and I'll explain why. Improving your language skills takes time and dedication. This means leaving the people and customs that you're familiar with in order to fully immerse yourself into a new culture. This will be difficult, awkward, and extremely uncomfortable at times (especially when you're feeling tired, lonely, or homesick) but don't give up. 

#4. Time is precious.

Don’t sit back to "wait to see what happens". Make it happen. Spending hours in your room (on social media, swiping your life away) is not making the most of your experience abroad. Continuously reevaluate what you’re doing and how you’re spending your time. Be daring, ask questions, and reach out to people. Also, reach out to your professors. They're brilliant people with interesting stories, and they genuinely care about your success. They might even help you with #1, as they understand the study abroad process and can offer tips and advice.

#5. Get involved and meet some locals. 

You’ll probably become extremely close to your floor mates and other students in your program, which is great! But you’ll find that breaking out of your regular group of friends is crucial if you want to meet the locals. Making friends with locals will open a whole new side to your study abroad experience. This will take some effort and creativity because most academic exchanges have fixed schedules with the same students that (usually) speak English. If possible, try to sign up for a class or a club with other students. In my experience in France, I found that French students generally stay in tight knit groups, and that they are more open to making new friends in clubs and societies. 

And here's a bonus tip:

#6. Difficulties aren't meant to defeat you. 

When you're in a tough spot or if someone is giving you a hard time (i.e. rude strangers, difficult landlord, slow administration), just remember this. Anybody can get bitter, resentful, and homesick. That's easy. Be a warrior! Dig your heels in and keep being your best. Life is funny, so always be good to people. You have to remind yourself that progress takes time, and that somewhere out there, other students are also going through the same experience as you.

Where are you heading? Have any additional advice? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below :)

Best of luck on your exchange! xx

If you look closely, there's so much to see out there

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