Tips for a memorable study abroad experience

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Kelley McDonald
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Everyone should study abroad at some point in their life.  No matter how long you decide to go, no matter where you choose to have your host country, it will change your life for the better.  This past summer, I was lucky enough to be able to travel to Granada, Spain to spend 7 weeks taking two classes, traveling every single weekend, and improving my Spanish speaking skills.  While in Spain, I lived with a host family, which initially was not my first choice. Several of my friends studied abroad the previous semester and seeing them live with their friends in apartments made me look forward to that, too. But in the end, I would not have wanted to live anywhere else. I grew closer to my host family than I could have ever imagined (even shedding a few tears on my last night) and I was able to practice Spanish at all times of the day. It was truly the best way to become fully immersed into the culture and the language.

Studying abroad is definitely a learning experience and each day you learn something new.  Here are a few tips I would give to someone who is going abroad in the future.

  1. Do something every single day.  Do NOT go home and watch that Netflix show you have been binge watching because even though 7 weeks seems long, it will go by in a blink of an eye.
  2. Try the native food. It may be the grossest or it may be the best thing you will ever eat but you will regret leaving and not trying that one thing.
  3. Find a spot. Find a restaurant, bar, café, anywhere! Get to know the staff.  It will make you feel like you found a place that makes you feel comfortable as soon as you walk in the door.
  4. Travel.  Travel as much as you can (or as much as your wallet will let you.) Especially if you are in Europe, travel because it is so easy to get to different countries.    
  5. If you want it, buy it.  If you are debating getting that homemade mug or rug for your mom but you just are not sure, get it.  You will regret passing something up that has meaning from your host country.
  6. Make new friends.  Sure, you may know a few people going on the same program as you but make sure to branch out of your group and meet other people in your program.  I can honestly say that I met some of the greatest people in my life in those 7 weeks.

There are so many positives that come with traveling and seeing the world. It is truly an experience that everyone should be able to do.  Stepping out of your comfort zone can be scary and intimidating but it is well worth it. If I did not step out and try new things, I would not have met the people I did, completed the experiences I went through, and I would not have these memories that will last a lifetime.