Study abroad tips are everywhere, but how helpful are they, honestly? Well, look no further! I have you covered with these 26 pieces of advice.
This blog post is a mix of things I wish I knew before studying abroad and general study abroad tips that answers many of your questions. Studying abroad my junior year led me to start Sojournies and live abroad. The ripple effects going abroad can have on your life are life-changing. You may end up going abroad more once your studying is over.
But you have to get there first! The following outlines a series of study abroad tips to prepare you for this adventure. There are multiple steps to study abroad before you go to have the best experience possible. So let’s get you there!
Table of Contents
How you should prepare for studying abroad
Plan as early as you can
If you have the itch to study abroad in college, get started as early as possible. Go to the study abroad office. Ask questions upfront, even if you are a freshman and do not plan on going abroad until junior year. The sooner you get started, the more you can prepare.
Create a study abroad checklist of all things you need to do. From getting your passport and visa to choosing your classes, write it all down. This list will help you keep track of any tasks you need to do. Check it off as you go as your countdown until you leave.
Start learning the language before you go
Language learning is one of the benefits of studying abroad because you immerse yourself in it. In school, out meeting new people at the grocery store, etc., the language is everywhere. Studying abroad forces you to use the language, which is beneficial to apply what you learn in class. But it is helpful to brush up on a few words and phrases before you depart. Pick up one of those mini guidebooks in the airport! They are overpriced yet full of practical phrases.
Research the country beforehand
History, traditions, cultural norms, and fun things to do are a few things you should do before studying abroad. Of course, a Google search can tell you a little about a country. But try picking up a book about your host country’s customs and culture. You can also use social media (blogs, Instagram, Tik Tok, etc.) to help you learn too.
There is nothing wrong with a bit of preparation. Culture shock will still happen. YouTube videos can also be another resourceful tool for those who learn best via video. Yet, researching the country beforehand is one of the most underrated study abroad tips.
Get your passport and visa ASAP
The top tips for studying abroad have to include getting your passport and visa. You literally cannot go abroad without them! But do not prolong this process. Depending on your host country and their passport and visa requirements, it can take a while. But do not make this first-time traveler mistake!
Some students’ programs offer to take care of all of this paperwork for you. Mine did, and I procrastinated. Be better than me! Unless you want to pay to expedite everything, start soon. You will also have peace of mind which is priceless.
Triple check the classes you chose
Depending on the school you attend, study abroad classes can be easier than ones at home. Some people do this intentionally to get electives out the way. Other students take some of their major requirements abroad—touch base with your study abroad office to know which classes are available.
Enrolling in unique classes I could not take at home is something I wish I knew before studying abroad. Study abroad courses have more variety than ones at your home institution. They tend to be more field-trip based too. Imagine taking an art history class in South Africa or Italy or art of dance class in Colombia and learning the merengue.
Set up your post-study abroad housing
This step may seem premature, but life moves fast post-study abroad. Save yourself a lot of extra, rushed stress later. Set up a plan for where you will live upon returning. Some people sign an apartment lease with friends. Others move back into the dorms. Whatever you decide, do it before you go.
Attend all pre-departure orientations
Even though they seem annoying, those pre-departure orientations can be vital. These sessions are where you can intake as much information as possible. Pre-departure orientation helps you prepare for the world of study abroad. So do not brush them off! The orientation sessions are also where you will meet your study abroad cohort. Use this time to get to know them.
Schedule medical visits and check-ups
Health comes first! Preparing to study abroad means making sure you are healthy enough to travel. Most study abroad programs require a physical during the application process. Schedule a dentist appointment before you go too. Cover all your bases just to be safe before you leave the country.
How you can make studying abroad easier
Create (or find) a packing list
A study abroad packing list is an essential tip for pre-study abroad preparation! You cannot and will not have room to bring everything in your luggage. Remember to take climate into account while packing too. You can buy towels, toothpaste, and other toiletries upon arrival. If you are staying with a host family, they will probably have those essentials too. You can also find a pre-made packing list to use as the foundation for yours.
Apply for study abroad scholarships
One of the most significant barriers to study abroad is the price tag. A way to curb this burden is by applying for study abroad scholarships. Some grants and scholarships are full or partial tuition. In addition, you can find opportunities to cover housing, books, flights, etc.
As you are looking for study abroad scholarships, check out Gabby Beckford of Packs Light. She shares travel opportunities from contests to travel scholarships. First, read through her website and PTO (Paid Travel Opportunities) Dashboard to see if Gabby has an opportunity for you. Then, explore all of your possibilities!
Start saving early and get a card to use abroad
Again, studying abroad requires someone else’s money or yours. To pay for your study abroad experience can get pricey based on where you choose. Cover all the possibilities by saving as early as possible. I worked multiple side jobs to help pay for my semester abroad.
Create a budget for yourself before you go, and once you arrive, if necessary. To spend the money, get a debit or credit card you can use abroad with minimal to no fees. Saving up in addition to applying for study abroad scholarships is advantageous too.
Become more independent
As fun as it is to meet new people, embracing your independence, is necessary. It is easy to become dependent on other people to avoid being lonely. Studying abroad teaches you that it is ok to be by yourself. Travel on your own. Take yourself on dates. Attend dance or language classes solo. Also, know that while the goal may be independence, sometimes you meet people along the way. You meet more people flying solo than you would in a group!
But do reach out for help when you need it
Studying abroad does encourage you to be more independent. However, independence does not mean you do not need help. On the contrary, you will need it at some point during your time abroad. Between the culture shock and speaking another language, there is a lot to balance. And as you learn new things about yourself and your surroundings, you need to process it with someone you trust.
Do not give in to peer pressure
As much as you should say yes to new adventures and put yourself out there, do so wisely. Remember you are not in your own country. If you do reckless things when you study abroad, you do not have the same protections. Studying abroad is about getting outside your comfort zone. Yet, it is also about staying safe too. Listen to your gut if you have a bad feeling about a situation, and do not give in to peer pressure.
Unlock your phone for a local SIM card
When you study abroad, you learn all about the importance of communication. And everyone loves to stay connected! Upon arrival, you can go to a cafe to get wi-fi. However, purchasing a local SIM card is best. Depending on your phone carrier, you may have to unlock your phone before leaving your home country.
Check with your phone company to figure out what is best. Do not push this off until the last minute. Or do not assume everything will be fine. I learned this the hard way when I taught English abroad after studying abroad! If you want to make calls more frequently and have data, get a local SIM card.
Lean into culture shock
In your pre-departure orientation, they will mention culture shock. It outlines the cultural adjustments you have to make abroad in stages. It happens to all of us! And while it can be tempting to ignore it – don’t.
Lean into all the discomfort you are feeling. Studying abroad will change and push you to do and be more. Also, remember to chat with your program coordinator or resident director when you need help. They are there to help you adjust and process your study abroad experience.
Go to class
Yes, you are abroad, but that doesn’t mean you can skip all your classes to travel. Study abroad students falls into the habit of forgetting they are in school abroad, hence the study. As a result, you can fail classes abroad. Though rare, it has happened.
Again, it is tempting to book extended trips instead of going to class. I’ve seen it. Of course, I booked some trips that cut it close. But you do not want to throw away a semester, summer, or year abroad. Studying abroad is meant to enhance your experience, not derail it. So go to class, please!
How you can get the most out of study abroad
Befriend non-study abroad students
As much as hanging out with your fellow study abroad students are fun, mix it up! Make friends with locals or people from different countries who may be in your program. While it is nice to have a hub of people you can relate to, diversify your crowd. There is a lot to be learned from others who share different perspectives from you. Those interactions and conversations are the ones you remember for years to come.
Put yourself out there
Studying abroad can place new opportunities and experiences in front of you every day. Never dated abroad? Try it. Have you done karaoke in a second language? The bar down the street has it on Thursdays, so you should go. New study abroad experiences do not always mean traveling. Sometimes it is the things you do in your daily life that can be worth the experience. They say everything you want is on the other side of fear. Putting yourself out there can help you get to that other side. Go for it.
Do not be afraid to make mistakes
The foundation of studying abroad is about learning. When you are in another country for the first time, mistakes are bound to happen. Will it be embarrassing when you conjugate a word wrong? Yes. Will it be rewarding when you learn from that mistake the next time? Absolutely. No study abroad experience is perfect because no study abroad student is perfect. Mistakes will happen but do not dwell on them. Keep living, learning, and traveling!
Take time after to travel
Step away from the roundtrip ticket and click the one way. Taking time to travel after my semester abroad is one of the things I wish I knew before studying abroad. Planning to travel post-study abroad is an easy way to maximize your time and overall international experience. It will take some extra cash unless you volunteer or work at a hostel to lower your costs. However, study abroad students who have backpacked across Southeast Asia or Europe say it’s worth it. And it’s my only study abroad regret!
Get a language exchange partner
Most study abroad tips will tell you to get a significant other to learn the language. They aren’t wrong! If you meet someone you like romantically from your host country, it is easier to learn the language. Someone is invested in you as you all spend time together. Then the language comes more easily.
But this does not happen for everyone! Nor is it required. You can learn the local language by getting a language partner. In Spanish, these are “intercambios.” Essentially they are opportunities for language exchanges. You can find them at cafes, language schools, bars, etc.
Plan a solo trip
After being in a study abroad program making fast friends, a little downtime should be in your future. Unfortunately, pursuing a solo trip is not generally given as a study abroad tip. But I think it is something you should consider. Whether you are backpacking, volunteering abroad, or working a seasonal job, solo travel is an excellent addition to your experience.
Planning a solo trip or after my experience is one of the things I wish I knew before studying abroad. There is never another time where you will have that kind of freedom. At least not for most people! If you have the time, money, and opportunity, I would recommend a trip.
Document your experience
Studying abroad is one of the most magical and life-changing experiences. To savor the memories for later, document as much as you can. People always say to “live in the moment” and often assume that means no photos or videos. But that is not true! You can do what you want to document your experience. Photos, videos, blogging, and keeping a travel journal are all common ways to do so.
Balance in-country and out of country travel
Of course, traveling whenever and wherever you can is one of the main study abroad tips. But, you need to explore the country you are in too! It is easy to plan an entire study abroad in another country, then book flights to other countries on the weekends.
Get to know your host country and culture. Take day trips to neighboring cities and towns. Unfortunately, many study abroad students fall into the trap of country-hopping. That level of travel is electrifying. However, find some balance in the places you plan to visit. For example, visit another city (or multiple cities) in-country one weekend and then go out of the country the next.
Say YES to new adventures
I know you didn’t study abroad to stay cooped up in your host family’s house! If you don’t listen to any other of these study abroad tips, this is the one to remember. The difference between a good study abroad experience and a great study abroad experience is saying yes more often. Don’t just live a little – live a lot! Make excellent and adventurous choices.
Is studying abroad hard?
That is such a loaded question! The answer depends on where you study abroad, how you are accustomed to living, how easily you adapt, etc. For example, some students think living with host families is hard. Others believe living in an apartment is better. Most students can adjust; however, many cannot.
There are some challenges when you study abroad – that is a given. But to me, the most challenging part about studying abroad was allowing myself to enjoy all its potential. First, you are so excited to get to your host country. Everything is new and fresh, which is exhilarating…and overwhelming. Then things become routine and comfortable.
Final thoughts on how to mentally prepare for study abroad
Do it. If you ask anyone who has studied abroad for study abroad tips, they would just tell you to GO! Part of the mental preparation is permitting yourself to have this experience in the first place. And yes, as a study abroad alum, I second those sentiments.
Leaping to study abroad is a unique opportunity that many do not have the privilege to pursue. When you have a chance like this, you have to take it. Studying abroad is hands down the most impactful experience of my life. I hope it can be the same for you. Good luck – adventure awaits!
Want to intern while you study abroad? Read these tips learn more about interning abroad.