Ask anyone who has studied abroad, and they will tell you it was the best experience of their life. Ask me about my study abroad experience, and I won’t say any different. I was able to study in Cork, Ireland with three of my closest friends, and I was determined from the start to make it a once in a lifetime opportunity. Sometimes it’s not as easy to make expectations a reality. However, I have some tips that I believe helped to shape my study abroad experience into what it was for me (which was phenomenal).
- Outline some goals. A week before my journey to Ireland was to start, I sat down and was thinking really hard about the upcoming semester. I was getting a bit overwhelmed by it all, because I was literally going to pack up my life into one giant suitcase. To calm my nerves and narrow my focus, I decided to jot down some major goals I had for the semester. I was able to look back and remind myself what exactly I wanted to get out of my trip. I even wrote down some general expectations. This kept my excitement up and helped to soothe some anxiety as well.
- Keep a journal. I’ve always been the type to enjoy writing things down. Even if you aren’t, I believe keeping a journal can help to reflect on some awesome memories, and help to remember them more vividly in the future. My journal turned into a compilation of a part of my life, so I am extremely happy I kept up with it. Don’t get me wrong though, my journal wasn’t just for the good times. That’s just another reason why it was so helpful though. It allowed me to be my personal therapist, gush about this or that awesome place I got to visit, and now acts as a tangible memory of my study abroad experience.
- Push yourself. I made a personal promise to myself which went something like, “Katelyn, you will not hold yourself back this semester.” I stuck to that. I ventured past my comfort zone. I learned to travel on public transportation like a pro. I went without cellphone service for 90% of my time abroad. I went without sleep. I have now been on too many flights to count (I still get Ryanair emails). I even traveled from Paris to London by myself – believe me that is something I never thought I would muster up the courage to do. By doing all of this, I had a well rounded experience. I don’t regret a thing because, I learned a lot about myself and grew so much as a person.
- Make the most of your time. Learning to balance academics, exploring my new home, and traveling was difficult and overwhelming at first. It was easy to forget that I was in Ireland for scholarly purposes. However, I realized early on that my study abroad experience was an opportunity to learn about more than what could be offered in a classroom. I took my free time in Ireland to learn about a different culture, a different way of life. I saw different forms of architecture. I met new people. I learned about different traditions. I got hip to new lingo. And I balanced all of this with my school work. On top of all of that, I traveled to 5 other countries as well. It dawned on me that my experience as a whole, not just academics, was why I was studying in a different country.
No one’s experience will be the same, and that’s the beauty of it. You have the power to tailor your experience! You just have to make yourself available to let it happen.