While writing this blog, I reached out to a fellow traveler, Jack Hubble, to ask what he remembered most about his experiences abroad, and some of his advice in this post as well.
Traveling to a different country can seem overwhelming, but it is one of the best experiences you can have! Whether you are a seasoned traveler or this is your first time travelling abroad, there are several things that you can do to get the most out of your study abroad experience.
When I was preparing for my first trip abroad, I didn’t know what to expect. I would be traveling to Ireland with a group of people I had never met, and it would be my first time outside the US. I had completed my pre-departure activities and had my bags packed, but still had no idea what would happen once I arrived.
Looking back on that trip now, I can’t believe that I was worried! I travelled all over the beautiful country of Ireland, met some amazing people, and created memories that will last a lifetime. Most of the things I was nervous about were never a problem, and I realized that I really enjoyed trying new things and getting outside of my comfort zone. After this first experience abroad, I caught the travel bug and have visited 7 countries in the three years since then. Each of my trips has exposed me to new ideas and taught me to take advantage of any opportunity I have to travel.
No matter where you go in the world, there are several things you can do to make the most out of your study abroad experience. Here is a list of ideas to keep in mind while you are preparing for your next adventure!
Keep a Journal/ Make a Blog
Lots of seasoned travelers recommend journaling or keeping a blog to help you remember and reflect on your travel experience. Creating a blog can help you share your experiences with family and friends, and it is something you can always look back on and enjoy. I have used both a journal and a blog when I travel, and although the blog took some time to create, I have enjoyed looking back at my pictures and experiences now that I am back home. There are several websites that allow you to create a blog for free, but if travel blogging is something that you want to pursue in the future it might be beneficial to pay for a professional blog. Check out these blogs created by CALS students about their travels abroad!
Experience the Culture
Take advantage of any opportunity you have to immerse yourself in the culture of the country you are traveling in. If you have the opportunity to take a culture class while spending a semester abroad or visit local festivals and activities during your visit, take advantage of it. When I studied abroad in Spain for a semester, I took a “Spain Today” class that taught me about the different provinces of Spain, their history, and their customs. One of my favorite weekends during the semester was when I visited Seville and had the opportunity to tour the city and watch a flamenco show. I really enjoyed learning about the history of the city and participating in one of its oldest traditions.
“One thing I didn’t get a chance to do was go to a soccer game. Being in Thessaloniki, Greece, they had a soccer team and games, but I was busy when all my classmates went. Soccer is such a big part of the culture in Europe and if I go back I’ll make sure to attend a game.” Jack, senior at ISU
Interact with Locals
Some of my favorite memories from travelling occurred when I interacted with the locals and tried new things within the culture. Ask the locals where the best places to eat are and walk around lesser-known areas to experience the country's true culture. When I traveled to Argentina as a freshman, we stayed for a few days in a hotel in Buenos Aires. My friends and I made friends with one of the waiters in the hotel, and he suggested some different restaurants and areas to check out around the city. We were able to talk with him every day about what we had seen and experienced, and I was able to learn a lot about the city and culture from a personal perspective.
Don’t Live in a Hotel
If you have the opportunity to stay with a host family or live in an apartment with fellow travelers, take advantage of it! For short term trips, it is probably more reasonable to stay in a hotel, but don’t live in it. Get out and explore! Living with people from other cultures can be challenging, but it gives you the opportunity to learn a lot about yourself and the culture of the people you are living with. Living with a host family in Cáceres, Spain, was a great experience during my semester abroad. At first, there were some awkward moments as I integrated into their lives and they became accustomed to me. It would have been a lot easier for me to do my own thing and only hang out with fellow American students that understood English, but I chose to spend time with my host family and get to know them. By the end of my trip we talked every day during meals and even watched telenovelas together! To this day I still catch up with my host mom occasionally, and I hope to go back and visit her in the future. Living with a host family allowed me to learn more about Spanish culture than I ever would have if I stayed with other Americans.
Keep an Open Mind
Traveling to a different country exposes you to new ideas and puts you in situations that you might otherwise not experience. Every time I travel to a new country I learn something new about myself as well as my own culture in the US. While traveling to Argentina, I learned that life in the US is very fast paced and that Argentine people really value family time. For example, it is very common for Americans to pull up to a Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts drive-thru to pick up a coffee on their way to work. In Argentina, drive-thrus are nonexistent and people always sit down to drink their coffee and socialize within the cafe. This experience made me realize that every culture illustrates their values differently, and helped me to reflect on what my own values are.
"The most impactful thing that I learned was to be thankful for the opportunities available in the country I live in. A lot of students that I met talked about how they all dreamed about seeing the United States someday. Many of them talked about trying to come for school or to do an internship.” -Jack, senior at ISU
Overall, make your experience meaningful to you. Try things that you are interested in and don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. Take pictures and journal to help you remember your experiences, and try to learn something new everywhere you go!
Marta and Jack are Student Travel Consultants in the CALS Study Abroad Office and are always available to meet and discuss their personal study abroad experiences! Email email@example.com to set-up a virtual meeting with a Student Travel Consultant.