By Dixie Somers
Studying abroad is one of the most rewarding and exciting opportunities you'll have in your academic career. Many students dream about studying in a foreign country for years. Now that the time is near, there are some pointers you should take to heart before jet setting off to your new home away from home. Here are five simple but powerful ways to make the most of your time while studying in Europe.
Don't Stick to the School
While living with fellow Americans and students makes studying abroad fun, it can also hold you back from truly delving into your new country and discovering all it has to offer. Don't stay on campus, in residential housing or only frequent the neighborhood you're staying in. Sure, there are bound to be a slew of bars and restaurants nearby that offer a great atmosphere and good eats at affordable prices, but they're more than likely touristy. Make a point to visit at least one zone beyond your school and neighborhood per week.
See the Landmarks Early
Instead of revolving your entire time abroad around tourist districts and famous sites like Big Ben or the Trevi Foundation, aim to live the tourist life your first two weeks and dedicate the rest of your stay to adventuring beyond the city center. You'll gain far more knowledge and memorable experiences seeing the city as locals do than you will drinking overpriced coffees and browsing souvenirs.
Start Learning Customs Beforehand
Americans don't have the best reputation overseas, and one of the reasons is that study abroad students and tourists tend to dominate a foreign country and act the way they do back home. Life in the United States isn't like life in Europe, so make sure you find out things to know before you visit London or another popular study abroad destination. Make sure that you research the culture and customs of that city. You'll not only come off as more respectful to the natives, but you will also spare yourself some embarrassing moments.
Embrace a New Language
If you're headed to a country where English isn't the first language, make sure you truly embrace this fact as an opportunity to learn. Not only can learning a new language help you get around the city, but it will also look great on a resume once you're back home and applying to jobs.
There are certain survival words and phrases everyone should know in a foreign language like "please", "thank you", and "Do you speak English?" But don't stop there. Try to really learn the language so you can ask questions, converse with locals and experience the country as naturally as possible.
While you should enjoy your time overseas, many students studying abroad waste a lot of their time partying and falling into the same bar-hopping routine on the weekends. Don't allow yourself to settle in your new country. You aren't going to be there for long, and the semester will fly by faster than you can imagine. While you absolutely should hit the town and have some late nights with friends, make sure that your entire itinerary doesn't revolve around partying and drinking.
Research the country you're headed to and make a list of places you want to see, restaurants you want to eat at and any other noteworthy experiences you want to have while you're there. Follow the diet of the natives. Shop where they do, learn to cook the cuisine of the country, learn about its history and truly embrace the culture around you.
Make the Most of Being Overseas
You're bound to feel like there's too much ground to cover at one point or another while you're studying abroad, but keep in mind that how you live while you're overseas is just as important as what you're doing there. See all the essentials as early as possible and dedicate the rest of your time to learning as much as you can about another part of the world.
The experience of truly embracing another culture is life changing and will stay with you long after the semester has ended.
Dixie Somers is a freelance writer. Find Dixie on Facebook.