There are lots of online articles about “how to make the most of your study abroad experience,” and a lot of them of valid points. In the past few months, however, I’ve realized that they don’t have all the answers—there isn’t a study abroad formula that I have to follow.
It’s up to me to make the most of my experience and write my own story along the way!
Here are a few tips that have helped me so far:
1. Plan your trips early… and let others follow.
Plane tickets get more expensive the longer you wait. If you try to coordinate all of your trips with eight friends, you may end up paying more or not scheduling the trip at all. In addition, your day’s adventures will need to accommodate everyone’s needs. Go out on a limb and buy your tickets, tell your friends and see who follows.
2. Find a travel group that works for you.
Some groups focus on parties, others focus on culture. When you arrive in your new city, you might get bombarded with “bargain” deals for students to travel. Do your research before committing, though! I was lucky to find a company that’s just starting up. They offered a few trips for free to begin building their customer base, and they’ve had loads of promotions since then!
3. Take at least one trip by yourself.
Give yourself the opportunity to just do what you want to do. Wake up when you want, eat what you want, see what you want to see. It might seem scary at first, but it’s empowering to be independent.
I recommend taking your common sense, pepper spray, and a paper map… and leaving your fears behind!
4. Don’t like museums? Don’t go!
When I visit a new city, I often feel obligated to hit the tourist traps. If you aren’t really interested, though, you might just be wasting time! Sure, a picture from a walk in El Retiro Park may not get as many likes as one from the Prado Museum… but I vividly remember the gardens and vaguely remember the 19th century gothic art. Where do you think my time was better spent?
5. Live in a place that makes you happy.
I can’t count the number of articles that told me to live in the city, in the middle of the nightlife. While my friends in the city seem to be having a blast, I knew that I’d be happier in a more suburban setting.
Near my home here, I run and walk in a local park nearly every day. I get a free copy of the largest newspaper in Spain every morning. I get unlimited coffee for breakfast. I have free access to a gym. These are the things that make me happy, and that’s what matters most!