CISabroad blogger Tasha Ward participated in CISabroad’s Semester in Australia – University of Sydney study abroad program during Spring 2017. An Economics major at Clemson University, Tasha shares 10 strategies to help you take charge of your study or intern abroad experience.
So I’m sitting here, midterms officially behind me, and have realized that I am, unfortunately, halfway through my semester abroad. I’ve booked my flight home, made plans for a bit of a summer job, and am starting to think about my senior year of college back in the states. But hold on – halfway finished means I still have as much time ahead of me as I do behind me and that is EXCITING. What isn’t exciting is how long it took me to figure out the whole study abroad adventure thing! Long as it took to realize, here’s what I’ve learned, somehow compacted into a short “top 10” list, and what will definitely be the guidelines I live by for the rest of my time here!
1. Don’t underestimate your food budget.
I came here so prepared with ideas of how I would budget and “save” money during my time abroad. One of which was saying, aside from enjoying the local cuisine every once in a while, that I would cook at home for myself a majority of the time. Smart…right? Wrong! First of all, going out to eat was the most common activity to do with all the new people I was meeting in the first couple months of being abroad. It was the most convenient way to get to know people AND eat some bomb food at the same time. Which leads me to my next point: THERE IS SO MUCH GOOD FOOD TO TRY. It’s hard to grill yourself a chicken breast with Brussels sprouts at home when you just know there’s some funky Thai restaurant with a live jazz band waiting for you to explore. So, if anything, give yourself a food budget and then double it…you’ll thank me later. 🙂
2. Travel the world mindfully.
Here’s an easy one that won’t take much convincing! You have to take advantage of where you are and go to places you might not have the chance to see again. These will be your fondest memories, favorite pictures, and best stories. Pro tip: Planning for travel is way more difficult than anticipated without the parents figuring out all of the logistics. Don’t be afraid to be the responsible one who makes the plans and, conversely, don’t be the one who doesn’t thank the person who does all the trip planning because it is hard work!
3. Remember: there is S-T-U-D-Y in “study abroad.”
It was (no exaggeration) the worst realization when I had to skip going to the beach with friends to study for an exam. I’m in Australia and have to study? It’s definitely not ideal, but extremely necessary. Academics are serious here, requiring serious study time and plenty of preparation for exams and assignments. I only have to “pass,” grade-wise, but it is way more difficult than I imagined. It’s very important to remember this is STUDY abroad and you will actually have to study. I think I heard this one several times before I left, but it didn’t hit me until I had 6 weeks of material to learn the night before an exam…so learn from my mistakes and just stay on top of the material right from the start.
4. Don’t get nervous about finding your “group.”
Everybody is in the same situation as you and wants to make friends who make this experience one to remember. Give everybody a chance, never exclude someone, and always keep the invitations to a day or night out open. You can meet your best friend through the most random connection!
5. Keep in touch with family and friends back home.
While abroad, I realized that my mom and best friends back home were even more amazing than I realized before I left. It’s easy to get caught up in the hustle and bustle of being abroad, but don’t forget about the people who were there when you left and will be there when you get back. Send them a postcard letting them know you’re thinking of them – they’ll love it!
6. Get lost on purpose.
Hop on a train, bus, or even an airplane if you’re feeling extra adventurous – with no destination in mind! There’s so much to see that falls outside of your “Top things to do in Sydney” Google search results. These days can turn into the most memorable and are so worth the brief moments of panic when you realize you have no idea where you are. Disclaimer: Charge your phones entirely and maybe even bring an extra set of clothes.
7. Remember self care while you’re abroad.
Here’s an extra important one. So many people (myself included) expected study abroad to be one giant vacation. True, while it’s basically an endless opportunity for adventure, people need to realize that because you’re spending 6 months abroad, it’s actually living in a new place, not just vacationing there. And when you’re living somewhere, you have to take care of yourself. This means: don’t feel bad about taking a day or two to do your laundry, go to the grocery store, tidy up your room, and wash your sheets. These things keep you grounded, keep you human, keep you realizing that you’re an adult with responsibilities. It’s important to keep track of these things – don’t neglect them!
8. Forget your expectations.
My goodness, this one is vital. Seriously. Sure, go into your study abroad ready for the time of your life. It definitely will be, but probably not in the way you expected. I can, without hesitation, say that I didn’t expect to explore New Zealand completely by myself (seeing as I came on study abroad with a friend from home), or have a moment where I thought I needed to go home…but I did. If you go into this experience with expectations, there is room to be let down if they don’t go exactly as planned. And with so many variables in the mix, there will be times where things go the exact opposite way of what was planned. Don’t let this throw you off or make you uncomfortable. Learn to roll with the unexpected and you’ll enjoy yourself much more.
9. Take time to know yourself.
Here it is guys, the most corny (but most relevant) piece of advice I can give. During your time abroad, you’ll find yourself in an innumerable amount of unfamiliar situations: friendships will be tested, situations will be uncomfortable, and difficult decisions will have to be made. During all of this, you’ll get to do something so exciting and genuine, you may not even realize it’s happening. You will get the chance to truly know yourself – who you are, the type of people you like (and don’t like), the situations that make you uncomfortable, overwhelmed, and stressed, but also the situations that invoke genuine joy and self-satisfaction.
10. Continue your learning when you get home.
Studying abroad is a remarkable thing. We all go to unique places, meet tons of different people, learn a vast array of life lessons, but we all end up having a similar experience. I think we all become a more pure version of ourselves with a deeper understanding of what it means to be an individual, and a more complete appreciation of all the opportunities that have been made available to us in our lives.
It’s important to continue on with wherever our lives take us, putting into practice what we’ve learned during our time abroad. I don’t want to go back to living the sheltered life I’ve lived, so I hope to continue learning, reflecting, and growing as I go through life, applying what I’ve learned on this amazing study abroad journey. Challenge yourself to take what you’ve learned and develop it, rather than returning to your normal routine back home.
Curious about what a semester in Australia with CISabroad is like? Check out our Australia programs (like the one Tasha experienced) at cisabroad.com/australia.