5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Study Abroad
If you're currently on a study abroad semester or year, then you're probably nearing the end of your first month there. If you're like me, you're probably stressing that time is running out and you have so much left to do. Take a breath. You still have plenty of time left! Instead of obsessing over your calendar, take the time to embrace your adventure.
Soon into my semester abroad, I realized that I wasn't able to go to all the places I initially planned out because I didn't have endless time or money. This led me to focus on enjoying everything that I did have the chance to explore, and I had an amazing time!
Since my other posts focus more on what to do before studying abroad, I thought now would be the perfect time to post about what to do while you're actually there. The following five points are important to remember, so you don't get too caught up in studying the books (although you should actually do that because it is technically school) or jam-packing your travel itinerary, leaving no time to spend in your new city.
1. Fully Explore Your New City (and Country)
Believe me when I say that I know how exciting studying abroad can be. You're going to move to a new city and country that you've likely never been to. It will be full of culture, energy and a great time waiting to happen.
Then you'll probably focus on your bucket list of places to go once you've arrived. This is especially convenient if you're travelling to a location in Europe, since everything is so connected and easy to travel to. While travelling around is a great perk of studying abroad, don't overload your itinerary so much that you miss out on exploring your new home in depth.
During my semester abroad, I had many friends that went to many new countries and experiences some amazing events specific to different countries (like Oktoberfest in Germany). While these events would have been awesome to attend, I chose three other countries I wanted to see (Denmark, Estonia & England), and stuck with a simple travel agenda.
This allowed me to spend weekends exploring the beautiful city of Växjö and all of the charm it offers. I got to join my Friend Family on beautiful countryside drives, for lunch, to meet their grandparents who invited me for coffee, homemade food and cake, and to check out some castle ruins. My Friend Family was a local family who wanted to introduce an exchange student to Swedish life (my family wanted a Canadian to talk hockey with, but I'm definitely more of a baseball girl - sorry!). They were incredible though and helped me get the full Växjö experience!
On the other hand, I was able to spend a couple weekends travelling to different cities around in Sweden. While I didn't get a chance to stop by Malmö or Lund, I was able to spend one weekend in Gothenburg (Göteborg) and another in Stockholm. I'll have to save the other two cities for the next time I'm in Sweden! Exploring these cities was exciting, and definitely offered a busier change in pace from our smaller city.
2. Become Friends with Local Students
I was incredibly lucky to have attended a university that had an amazing international community. The international students were given our own residence, which consisted of many diverse cultures and students. It was so neat getting to share our cultures with each other, whether it was through food, language or customs. I loved having the opportunity to make great friends from across the world.
Since the international community at Linnaeus University is so strong, many of the Swedish students also get involved and get to know many of us international students. Some of my closest friends from my semester abroad are from Sweden, and I can't wait to go back and visit them.
Getting to know local students is great because they can help you learn the customs, language, how to get around campus and the city, what places to visit, and so much more. Their wealth of knowledge is a lot larger than any guidebook. While many Swedes are pretty reserved, they are some of the sweetest people I have ever met. Just get them talking, and you'll be friends in no time!
3. Eat Local Food
When you think of Sweden, the first food that probably comes to mind is meatballs (or the fermented herring that Buzzfeed did a video on). Well, I'm not the biggest fan of meat, but I figured when in Sweden... It turns out that I actually love them. I still go to IKEA here in Toronto to get their meatballs because it brings back great memories.
While there, I tried everything from tubed caviar (not my favourite), to knäckebröd (crispbread) with lox and cream cheese, to kanelbullar (cinnamon buns & my favourite Swedish treat). You really need to be open-minded when you move to a new country in terms of trying new foods. Even if you don't like it, at least you tried it.
In some cases, you may even find a new food that you absolutely love and will crave when you go home. I'm not a fan of cinnamon buns here in Canada because they're too sweet and doughy, but in Sweden they are the perfect texture and sweetness. If I didn't try it, I wouldn't have known how much I love their cinnamon buns. So, try anything and everything you can!
4. Learn as Much of the Language as You Can
You may be going to a country that speaks your first language, so that would make your transition a bit easier (especially at the airport and trains). When I first arrived at the airport, I was so overwhelmed by all of the Danish and Swedish signage. Luckily, many people in Sweden speak English, so I asked several people if I was heading in the right direction and on the right train, and thankfully I got to my destination relatively easily.
It's always a good idea to start searching common phrases before you leave so you're not at a complete loss when you arrive. I did this, and it helped me figure out what some signs on the walls and in the station were referring to.
The longer you're in a new country, the easier it will get to pick out words and phrases. This happens while you're running common errands like grocery shopping. You start recognizing numbers based off what they say compared to the cash register display and how to interact in short phrases with the cashier.
5. Learn from the Culture, Not Just the Classroom
It's a rare opportunity to be able to learn outside the classroom. During university, you are expected to read textbooks, novels and articles, study them, and then write about your learning or take a test. Your learning in the classroom is more confined to a schedule and you have specific instructions to follow.
The benefit of studying in a foreign country and city is that you have the opportunity to learn outside the classroom. By exploring your new home, communicating with the locals and interacting with a new culture, you're introduced to a new style of learning. You're provided with real-world education that can't be taught.
Take full advantage of this learning. It will broaden your views and knowledge through first-hand interaction.
Do you plan on doing a study abroad in the future? If you're already abroad, what country are you studying in?
Until next time,