Amanda studied abroad in Spain, where she developed a love of travelling, tapas and red wine. After graduating, she worked in public policy for three years before moving to Mexico, where she is currently volunteering for an Non Government Organisation (NGO).
Studying abroad is often associated with attending Oktoberfest, and not attending classes. Here’s how to make the most of your experience socially and academically, and how to use your experience to your advantage when you return home.
Before you leave
Preparation is King in most areas of life, and studying abroad is no exception.
While it’s tempting to do the same program as your friends, explore your options. What do you want to get out of your experience? Learn a new language? Complete a semester at a prestigious institution for your CV? Remember: you will make friends wherever you go. So don’t be afraid to strike out on your own.
Studying abroad can be expensive. Not only flights, but sometimes a higher cost of living and weekends spent travelling. To get an idea of how much you’ll need, talk to someone who has done the same program you’re looking into. Some host institutions also provide a suggested budget for international students on their websites. These can be really helpful!
Once you know how much you need, earn those dollars! Pick up a part time job, and cut down on buying coffees or nights out. It will be worth it. Also, check out your home and host institution’s websites, and online portals, for available scholarships. It takes a bit of leg work, but plenty of organisations are willing to give you money for free. Also, don’t be afraid to ask local businesses or clubs if they are willing to support you. Many are happy to give you a donation, in return for a presentation on your experience when you return.
While you’re abroad
When you arrive in your new country, soak it up! After a couple of weeks, you will probably be ready to settle in. Find your rhythm. You will need time to study, and you will need time alone. Don’t feel that just because you’re studying abroad, you have to go out every night. And do attend your classes. It’s only a few hours a day. Go on, you can do it.
At the same time, make the most of your experience. I can be an introvert, so when new opportunities arose, a golden rule for me was to just say, “Yes”. Saying yes served me well. It meant I spent Easter with locals in Italy, flew to Lisbon for a weekend, practised my French in Paris and made countless new friends. Go with the flow, you can always study on the train back.
Getting back to reality can be difficult. Resist the urge to begin all your stories with, “When I was overseas…” Instead, remember to ask your friends what they’ve been up to, and make sure you take the time to enjoy the things you missed while you were away, like tim tams and a decent cup of coffee!
Then use your experience to your advantage. Studying abroad is a huge asset to your CV. Even if you feel it isn’t directly related to the job you are applying for, it can distinguish you from other applicants. It definitely gives you an edge! Just by living and studying in another country, you have learnt a lot of skills: how to communicate, overcome cultural barriers, be resourceful, manage difficult situations and adapt to sudden changes. Every employer looks for these skills, and you have real world experience to prove you have them.
Studying abroad can be a lot of fun. Manage it well, present it well, and it will also open doors for your future!