Sunday, May 3, 2009

Making the Most of Your Study Abroad Experience

Studying abroad is a great way to broaden your personal horizons and your career prospects. But it will require some planning and preparation on your part. Here are a few things you can do to make the most of your study abroad experience.

Select the Right Program

Choosing the right study abroad program is extremely important. Your choice can have a significant impact on your education and your travel experience. Particular things to consider when choosing a study abroad program include where you will be studying, the cost of the program, the amount of emphasis on total immersion, the number of students participating in the program, and the program's reputation. You will also want to think about your ultimate goals. Knowing what you want out of a study abroad program will make it easier to find a program that fits your needs.

Research Your Destination

Although you undoubtedly researched the country you will be studying in prior to making the decision to study abroad, it is a good idea to review what you have learned. Some of the things you will want to familiarize yourself with include the country's geography, history, culture, economy, and government. You should also learn as much as you can about the current political situation. Much of this information can be obtained from the U.S. Department of State, which publishes Country Specific Information for every country of the world. Country Specific Information can be obtained online and by special request.

Know the Laws

The culture isn't the only thing you should familiarize yourself with when studying in another country. You should also have a passing knowledge of basic laws and customs. While traveling abroad, you will be subject to your host country's laws and regulations. If you aren't familiar with the rules, you could end up in serious trouble. You can learn about a county's laws by contacting the appropriate embassy. Information on criminal penalties in each country can be obtained though the Country Specific Information published by the U.S. Department of State.

Learn the Language

It is not absolutely necessary to speak the country's language fluently, but you should know a little bit before you go. At minimum, try to learn a few key phrases prior to your trip. Being able to converse in the local language will help you adjust to your new surroundings and may even save you from an embarrassing accident if you're having trouble finding a restroom. Knowing a few phrases will also make it easier to pick up on the language once you get there.


Studying abroad will probably put you near a lot of different places you may not have the opportunity to visit under normal circumstances. You can take advantage of the situation by travelling to and exploring new places. Many study abroad programs offer planned field trips that relate to your area of study. Sign up whenever you can. If your program doesn't provide guided trips as part of the curriculum, you can make your own list of museums and landmarks to visit in your spare time.

Immerse Yourself in the Culture

Experiencing a new culture is one of the main reasons people choose to study abroad. What most people don't realize is that speaking a country's language and eating its food isn't the best way to learn about a country's culture. You must immerse yourself to get the full experience. Culture is more than food and language. It is people, perceptions, values, actions, and beliefs. If you can find a way to experience these things personally, then you will have truly immersed yourself in the culture.

Break Out of Your Academic Routine

School can become very monotonous--regardless of the country you study in. Although it is good to have routines, you should try to avoid falling into the week after week monotony that you left behind. Remember that you are in a new country under a new academic system. It is okay to experiment with schedules and routines.

Take Courses Not Offered On Your Campus

While studying aboard, you may get the opportunity to take courses that are not offered on your usual campus. If the opportunity is presented to you, do try to take it. These courses may provide you with the type of experience you need to gain a new perspective or career skill.

Keep a Journal

Studying abroad can be a whirlwind experience. After a few months, your memories may begin to fade. Keeping a journal will help to remind you about the interesting events and sites that you might have otherwise forgotten. The journal will be especially helpful if you ever write about your experience or the country you studied in. Journals can also be used to record career-related experiences that can be shared with future employers.

Guest post from Karen Schweitzer who writes for the college database on


  1. Very interesting post, Karen! Thank you for sharing. I recently wrote also a post on how to make the most of your stay abroad. Check it out here:

    I really like your idea of keeping a journal while you are abroad. I wrote a blog during the time I lived in China and I still go back there and enjoy the memories of this adventure.

  2. I am very much apppreciate on your good and helpful article. Study abroad is one of life's rewarding challenge.