By Casey Drum
Study abroad programs are advertised to college students from the moment they attend orientation. Eager freshman are drawn in by the tri-fold presentations with alluring pictures from places ranging from Australia to Ireland. Many of these students will load up on brochures ready to convince their parents to let them spend a future summer, or even semester, in another country.
Distance Learning Coordinator of Grady College, Kelly Meyer, urges students to study abroad at least once. She preaches that traveling abroad helps students to broaden their perspectives of the world as they step out of their comfort zone. Study abroad programs often force students to become a minority while in a foreign country and face new challenges such as language barriers and traveling in large groups.
Study abroad programs take immense planning, from passports to money usage to health choices. The planning process is exciting as it builds anticipation to your future trip. It is important for students to be prepared before traveling abroad. You will be making lifelong memories. While it’s important to plan for a study abroad, it’s also important to plan to make the most out of your trip. From one study abroad traveler to another, here are some tips to make your trip the best it can be:
Take pictures of scenery and of yourself. Friends and family will be asking you for pictures from every new place that you visit, and you will be grateful for all of your pictures when you return home. Not only will you have pristine Instagram pictures, but the digital treasures will act as a reminder of your amazing trip. Your friends and followers will be excited to see your updates from your trip, so get ready for the most likes and comments of your social media life to date.
You will be studying and traveling with your peers for the majority of your program, so make friends. Not only should you practice the buddy system while traveling abroad, but it is also more enjoyable to make memories with others. By the time your program is over, you could have a whole new friend group that you may have never connected with on campus. When you get home, some of your best nights back in Athens will be reminiscing with your study abroad friends (shout-out to my Prague Dawgs).
Take your classes seriously.
Meyer says that many students have the misconception that study abroad classes will be easy, but this is often not the case. “Focus on your studies, but don’t let classes hold you back from experiencing the foreign country around you,” says Kate Braun, a senior accounting major from Midway. Most study abroad classes are not merely lecture style. The course study may allow the students to go out into the foreign country where they are studying and have unique experiences. Although this may seem like a challenge at first, most students find that the hands-on style is more rewarding in the long run.
Do something different. You are in a foreign country! Try their food, experience their culture and simply try something new everyday. You can have a reasonable bedtime when you get back to Athens. Go out, see why people rage over international clubs, let loose with your new friends, stay out until sunrise. Some of your best memories will come from these nights. Remember to always be safe, and make smart decisions.
Don’t say no to a weekend trip to another city/country.
If you are studying in a place with easy access to other destinations, go. Commonly, the most expensive part of a trip abroad is the airfare to get there. Once you are there, do not waste your time. Many international countries have reliable bus or train systems allowing easy travel across borders.
Stay in a hostel.
Hostels are notoriously infamous for being gross and unsafe, but realistically they are often cheap, safe and convenient. You may stay in a room with nine other people in cheap bunk beds, and you may not shower for three days, but in the end, it is all about the unforgettable experience and the memories.
Don’t penny-pinch too much.
This may not be your parents’ favorite advice because saving money is important. However, you will probably only get to study abroad once, and it is all about making the most of your time. Pay the fare to see that museum or take that river cruise or buy that extra souvenir. Again, it is all about the memories!
Call your parents.
They miss you. They may say they aren’t worried about you, but they are. Check in with them as much as you can. Meyer advises you to take the time to teach them how to use technology, such as Skype, and then designate some time to call them once you are abroad. They will be excited to see you and hear your stories, and you will enjoy a little taste of home.
Write a blog/journal.
It may be time-consuming, but it is important. You will want to remember your entire trip. Write down what you saw, who you were with and what you felt. Trips abroad are exciting and can be overwhelming. Write it all down, so you don’t forget anything. Blogs and social media updates are also a great way to keep others updated on your trip.
Wi-Fi is your best friend.
“Ranking restaurants based on Wi-Fi availability before food preferences is totally okay,” says Kaitlyn Yarborough, a junior magazine journalism major from Albany. Yarborough studied in Prague, Czech Republic, on Grady College’s Travel Writing program in the summer of 2015. You will find yourself choosing your restaurants, hostels and destinations based on Wi-Fi availability. If you do not pay the extra fees to have cellular data while abroad, you will have to get used to not having instant Internet access at your fingertips at all times. Take advantage of Wi-Fi wherever you are lucky enough to find it, but don’t forget to put your phone down and experience your trip. (Tip: You can take Snapchats without an Internet connection and send them or add them to your story when you are on Wi-Fi later.)
Learn the transportation systems.
International countries have different transportation options than Athens. Learning how to utilize local metros, buses and trams will be extremely helpful. Don’t be embarrassed to be the tourist with the map for your first week. By the end of your trip you will be getting around like a local. “The metro is scary at first, but it is the most helpful thing by far once you master it,” Yarborough says. “Make sure to know what times it opens and closes, so you aren’t stranded.”
The overall best advice to give future travelers is to be prepared for some of the best times of their lives. Whether you are studying abroad for three weeks or an entire semester, remember to make the most of your time. See as much and do as much as you can, and come back with tons of great stories for your family and friends.