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 are focused 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 overloading 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 you've likely never been to. It will be full of energy, a new culture 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 experienced some amazing events specific to different countries, like Oktoberfest in Germany. While these events would have been awesome to attend, I stuck with a simple travel agenda and chose three other countries I wanted to see: Denmark, Estonia and the UK.

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 introduced me to Swedish life (they specifically wanted a Canadian student 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 get involved and hang out with 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. 

Local students 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 comes to mind is probably meatballs, but there are so many other local delicacies and sweet treats.

While there, I tried everything from tubed caviar (not my favourite) to knäckebröd (crispbread) with lox and cream cheese to kanelbullar (cinnamon buns). 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, which would make your transition a bit easier. 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. 

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.

5. Learn From Your Environment, 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 another country is that you have the opportunity to learn outside the classroom. By exploring your new home and communicating with locals, you're introduced to a new style of learning. You get a 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?