After a delayed flight, I arrived hours late to the doorstep of my host-family’s apartment building with six months worth of luggage and butterflies in my stomach. Just as the cab that brought me from the airport pulled away, I realized that I had no idea what my host family’s last name was, what apartment to buzz, or what to say. Even if I had known what to say, I didn’t know how to say it in Spanish. That’s when the panic settled in… what had I gotten myself into?!

Thankfully, it all worked itself out and my first study-abroad experience was a success. Here are some tips to make yours successful, too.study_abroad

  1. Go early, go often. This is the mantra of anyone who has had at least one experience abroad. Students often say that they wish they had been aware of the opportunities to travel earlier on in their degree. Go seek out your study-abroad office on campus ASAP! The sooner that you know your options, the better you can plan academically and financially.
  2. Seek sage advice. The study-abroad office is the best place start planning your experience but it is not where you should stop! Who else should you seek advice from?
Professors: Professors can give you advice on choosing the country or university most relevant for your field of study. It’s also likely that professors will have established relationships with universities or professors abroad, expanding your network and opportunities.
Academic Advisors: Department advisors can help you choose what courses you will need to take abroad to stay on track with your degree. They may be the ultimate decision maker regarding what will and won’t count toward your credits, so partnering with them early on is a good idea.
  1. Work it! Studying abroad isn’t just an excuse to get that selfie in front of the Great Pyramid of Giza (whoops, guilty!). Leverage the experience to build the skills that will make you stand out in the workforce. Here’s how:
Internships: Request a study-abroad program that matches students with internships. If your school does not already do this, you may have to self-advocate by connecting with your host university and asking about the options they provide to their students.
Learn a language: This is by far one of the most important skills you can gain in an experience abroad. Immersion is the best way to learn, so take advantage of it. The language you choose to learn should depend on your goals. Think about what cultures and languages you might interact with in your field and tailor your program to fit.
  1. Be the change. Of all of my abroad experiences, my favorites have been those in which my classroom was the community. Service-learning opportunities pair coursework with volunteer experiences that help communities and end up teaching you more about yourself than you can imagine. Also, volunteering with a non-profit or joining your professor in her fieldwork abroad as a research assistant are hands-on ways to earn class credits.

5. Always ask why. Your time abroad will stay with you for the rest of your life, but what you learn will depend on you. There will be moments when differences in culture are frustrating or baffling, yet these are the moments when you can learn the most. As my very wise friend from China once told me as I prepared for my first abroad experience, “Always ask why.” If you learn the reasons behind why people do what they do, then you will grow to understand the culture and you will rarely be frustrated