Study Abroad Essentials: Part 2, How to Maximize Your Time Abroad

I spent the Spring of 2015 studying abroad in Seoul, South Korea. And I have to brag on myself a little bit–I studied abroad like a boss. The months of studying and planning that I did, as well as some key choices that I made, really paid off when it came time for the actual trip. So now I’d like to share some of my best study abroad trips with the world! This is part of a series.

Read Part 1 here.


Study abroad trips are varying in length, and since the purpose of the trip is to study (at least that’s your excuse for going), it can be difficult to find the time to have meaningful experiences outside of school. This list of tips is meant to help you maximize your time as a student abroad. All of these tips are based on my personal experience.

Me in my tiny goshiwon room. This room was my home during my time studying abroad in Seoul in 2015. (Taken by Calum Fletcher).


Before you go…


Learn some of the language of your host country.

Whether you download Duolingo, get a personal tutor, or just watch some movies in your host country’s language, learning some key phrases before you go will help you maximize your experience when you get there. If you know more of the language, you can spend less time typing in your translation app and more time interacting with the people you meet. Learning the basics before you go can also help decrease your anxiety and culture shock during the first few weeks you spend abroad.

Photo by VanveenJF on Unsplash


Make friends with people from your host country (or host university).

If you attend a larger home university, chances are there are students from the country you are going to visit studying on your campus. If you are participating in direct exchange program between your home university and an overseas university, there may even be students from the exact university you will be attending abroad! Contact your school’s international department to see if there are any events you can attend with international students from the country you will be visiting. Get to know some students from the place you will be going and ask them what they think you should know about their home country. The best tips you can receive about a place are from those who have lived there, and you might form some lasting friendships as well.


Plan a few “side trips” in your host country.

Once you land in your host country and start studying you may not have much time to research things to do. If you write down some information about potential weekend trips before you get there, it will be easier to gather some friends, pick a date, and get going! Make sure you do a little research about transportation, accommodations and safety as well.


Plan to arrive in the country a little early and/or leave a little late (if possible).

If your travel visa and financial situation allows for it, try to get to your host country before classes start and/or stay for a while after classes end. If you arrive early, you will have more time to adjust to the shock of living in a new culture before you have start studying for classes. If you stay late, you can use what you have learned about the country’s language and culture during your time as a student to have some amazing adventures before you return home.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


While you are there…


Take advantage of the clubs, events and other resources for international students that your host university may offer.

Although it might sound cheesy, being a part of an international student organization is one of the best ways to make friends with local and other international students while abroad. Some universities may even offer free or low-cost trips to festivals, tourist sites and theme parks just for international students.

At Korea University, all international students are assigned a “buddy” and a “buddy group.” Your buddy can be someone for you to ask for help with filling out paperwork and finding your way around campus. In my case, my buddy became one of my best friends while studying abroad, and we still talk sometimes. Many of the people I met through KU’s international student organization became close friends of mine.


Think about the ways that taking classes abroad can impact your learning experience.

 Taking a course in a foreign country gives you a different perspective on the subject material. Even seemingly straight-forwards subjects like math or science can be taught in different ways depending on the cultural context you are in. Try to take note of the unique perspective that learning abroad offers you as a student. At the very least, it will give you some interesting material for future scholarship application essays and job interviews.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash


Enjoy the small things.

Even if you don’t have much time or cash to spare, you can spend time getting to know the neighborhood where you live abroad and the people in it. Forming small but meaningful relationships with some of the neighbors and employees at the shops I frequented was one of the best parts of my study abroad experience. Take note of your favorite convenience store snack, your favorite park bench and your favorite street-food smell. Those are the little things you will savor in your memory after you return home.

Me in 2015, during my first week studying abroad in Korea. One of the first things Calum and I did was explore the neighborhood where we lived. (Taken by Calum Fletcher)


If you have studied abroad before, what are your best tips?

If you are preparing to study abroad soon, where are you going and what are you looking forward to?


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