When I first moved to Spain in 2015 for six months to study the Spanish language and culture, I had absolutely no idea what was in store for me. It was my first time in Europe, my first time to travel alone, I was 22 years old and seriously naive, and on top of that, I barely spoke the language. But somehow based on my misguided knowledge of the country’s culture Spain was the obvious choice: sun, tapas, flamenco… how could anyone go wrong? In truth, all I knew for certain back then was that I wanted to be away from home for some time, to learn how to live independently, and to discover the European continent as best I could. Those six months turned out to change the course of my life forever. I learned so many things about life and myself and more important, the experience cemented my desire to travel as far and as often as I could. From one student on exchange to another, here are some tips to make your stay abroad one to truly remember.
1. Keep an open mindset
Your time abroad is an invaluable opportunity to immerse yourself completely in a culture that probably has very little to do with your own. Rid yourself of all inhibitions, stereotypes, and prejudices. The only way to gain a full experience abroad is to be entirely open to it. Do things that you’ve never done before, and more important, things you might not have the chance to experience back home. Eat cuisine from your host country so openly until you find yourself a favourite, go-to meal. Develop relationships with locals no matter how short-lived they might seem; it is through interacting with them that you can truly capture the essence of the place you temporarily call home. Allow yourself to be pleasantly surprised at each turn.
2. Stay organized
I know first-hand how difficult it is to stay on top of things when you’re out and about on every possible occasion. But also trust me when I tell you that it PAYS to be organized especially when you’re living alone in a foreign land. Take care of all the bureaucracy upon arrival, double up copies of all essential documents, keep track of all your expenses, and you’ll thank yourself later. Don’t merely consider your time abroad as the ultimate chance to let loose; instead, see it as the prime opportunity to be responsible and independent and you will grow so much as a person. On top of that, it will be so much easier to have fun and enjoy yourself without having to worry about whether or not your monthly credit card bill has been paid.
3. Learn basic life skills
Nothing compares to the feeling of gathering your first successful batch of laundry, of cooking your first full, edible meal, of cleaning your flat for the first time, of taking care of yourself the first time you get sick abroad. Living and studying in a foreign place changes you in such nuanced ways that you don’t even realize you’ve turned into an adult almost overnight. It is a rite of passage to be able to look after yourself for an extended period of time with zero casualties and minimal food spoilage involved. It is also an experience that anyone who studies abroad is automatically warranted.
4. Make new friends
I cannot begin to explain how making friends, with both locals and the people in the same program, of varying ages and professions, enriched my experience back in 2015 in ways I could have never imagined. It was truly comforting to have your own, little family in your home away from home, knowing that all of you were more or less going through the same experiences and sharing memories that will last a lifetime. And this is coming from someone who is extremely introverted. You will soon learn that these once-in-a-lifetime connections are invaluable and transcend both time and distance.
5. Travel. And Eat. A lot.
I owe my semi-nomadic lifestyle now to my first study abroad experience. It broadened my horizons in unexpected ways and opened my eyes to how simultaneously big and small the world really is. I traveled across the European continent with an unrelenting sense of adventure that has had an immense impact on the rest of my life. I ate my way through all the countries and cities that I visited in such a short period of time. And I took bajillion photos that to this day never fail to put a smile on my face.