So that’s it – the best semester anybody could ask for has officially come to a close. I will miss all the places I’ve been and people I’ve met but I know that my study abroad story is only one amidst those in the past and of the many coming in the future. I look forward to mentoring students in their study abroad preparation and keeping that “exchange spirit” alive. So after 4 months.. here it is. Those essential tips and hints of advice I’ve collected that future exchange students ought to know in order to survive the best semester of their life.
1. You won’t study [a lot]
At one point in the semester you’re going to wonder when exchange student became exchange traveler. But here’s the thing – you’re still learning, growing, and expanding your knowledge in ways that quite honestly defy traditional schooling. Do you know how to understand a city’s metro system before a chapter in that finance course? Is there a class to teach “hello” “sorry” “thank you” and “can I have” in every language? Is traveling by yourself a bigger challenge than finding the motivation to study in the library alone? I attended most of my classes while abroad – that expectation does not change. But classes are structured differently here and when 100% of your grade relies on a final exam the last week of school that time can get a little pressurized with all the catch-up work and studying that you hadn’t done all semester. Getting class credit is important for many reasons (aka graduating on time is my priority) but let us not forget what the study abroad experience truly is. Study culture, study people, study beauty, study yourself.
If you don’t already have something lined up, make an effort to continue recruiting for internships. While planning a weekend trip to a new country may seem more exciting than an application or sending out some emails to recruiters, the regular world with regular responsibilities continues back home and they will forget about you if you let them. I applied for many opportunities and have interviews already scheduled for when I get back to the US. I interviewed while abroad – both successfully and unsuccessful due to technology troubles and time difference challenges, but making the effort has been extremely valuable. Remember – work hard, play hard.
3. You’ll miss your friends
Sometimes no matter how cool your Instagram pictures and Facebook statuses of your travels are, it’ll always be a sting to see your friends together back home having fun. You’ll think you’re missing out – but can Sixth Street and football games really compare to the things you will see and participate in abroad? Make the effort to keep in touch with those who are important to you and let go of those who aren’t.
4. Bring peanut butter
There is a great variety of food in Europe and every country has its own signature foods. And I absolutely urge you to stay away from caving into eating American foods, even when you’re just so desperately craving McDonalds. While eating pizza and pasta everyday is never unrewarding, I won’t forget how utterly satisfied I was to have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after my parents visited and brought a jar of pb with them.
5. Get security updates
Subscribe to International SOS’s Daily Digest (tells you of news happening all around the world and has helpful travel advice) and Travel Security Online (which tells you of precautionary news or transportation changes in your country/city)- it’s a must have while living in your exchange city and while traveling around. Travel Security Online emails were so incredibly helpful. You’ll learn that in Europe, transportation strikes is practically a weekly occurrence and this can be quite worrying when you need trams, trains, and especially planes to travel. There have been a few instances of issues with flights being cancelled because of employee strikes. Just make sure you’re aware of what’s happening where you’re living – its for your safety and your convenience.
6. Pack light, leave heavy
And finally, buy a lot of souvenirs and gifts while you’re abroad. Make your purchases become physical memories – like a painting you can hang in your apartment in Austin, or a piece of clothing that will make you feel like you’re right back in your country. Only bring the essentials and girls – bring neutral clothes that can be mixed and matched before you become a shameless ‘outfit repeater’. You’ll be extra pleased at the end of the semester when you have space in your luggage for the things you’ve collected during your travels. Souvenirs is not something to necessarily feel materialistic about- but I do believe that an ordinary object becomes so much more than ordinary when it holds memories, sights, and moments of the place it came from. Leave heavy- leave with stuffed suitcases and strong emotions.
Leave knowing that all good things must come to an end. Ciao, Milan.