How to Make the Most of Your Summer Abroad

Ah, summer—school is out, the sun is shining, and for the next three months it feels like you’ve got plenty of time to pursue endless possibilities. Even more exciting, you’ve decided to embark on a study-abroad adventure this summer. You’ve researched and selected your ideal program, you’ve day dreamed about drinking wine in Italy or hiking through the Swiss Alps, and perfected your Pinterest board of wanderlust worthy outfits. It’s happening all at once, and, like most summers, it’ll begin and end in the blink of an eye. How can you make the most of your time abroad if you aren’t there for an entire semester? We’ve got all the tips you need to carpe diem daily for the next month or so.

Before

Investigate your destination

Arriving to your study abroad destination with absolutely no context of the city layout, language or culture would be incredibly overwhelming, so do your research beforehand. Lora Sonnick, a sophomore at Notre Dame, is currently studying abroad in London, and one of her top pieces of advice is to read a travel book before you arrive.

“[A book] is a good way to understand what there is to do, the least expensive way to do it, and cool places that are off the beaten path,” she explains. “A book will also give you good packing tips and explain some of the basic cultural differences between the US and your destination. If you know all that stuff before you get [there], it's way easier to just jump right in from day one.”

Her book of choice is Rick Steves’ various guides to European cities. But if you don’t want to go out and buy a book, there are plenty of travel blogs like The Blonde Abroad, World of Wanderlust, and Passion Passport to give you some tips and tricks about your home city, as well as packing advice and inspiration for weekend travel.  

Decide what is on your must-do/must-see list

You don’t want to leave your time abroad with any regrets about things you wish you would have done or places you wish you visited. While Lora didn’t plan much before she went to London, she wishes she had.

“I had a general idea of the big things I wanted to do: visit the major museums, see a few shows in the West End, etc. but I didn't really get an understanding of the area I was going to be living in,” she says. “Once I got here I did a lot of research in the first few days but I wish I had come with that knowledge already.”

Research beforehand and decide what your absolute must-dos/must-sees are. Then, make a master list.

Select classes specific to your location

Most likely, your program has classes tailored to your location, which means learning from an expert on your home city’s culture, opportunities to practice language skills, and field trips. Hannah Wells, a sophomore at Marquette, studied abroad in Florence, Italy last summer through a program offered by Gonzaga, and took an Italian and an Astronomy class.

“For our Italian class, we had a ‘lab’ every Tuesday where our teacher, a Florence native, would take us around Florence to practice our Italian ordering at bakeries and visiting spots that only the locals knew existed,” she explains. “This was exciting as it made me feel like more than just a tourist.”

Lora agrees that classes with field trips are a great way to see the best of the local sights and even take a few day trips.

“Even though extra professor time is usually not hotly sought after, spending time with someone who understands the culture of the area you're in helps you understand it, too,” says Lora.

It’s an added bonus if transportation or food is covered by your host university during lab.

Save up your money

The last thing you want to do while exploring the world is check your bank account constantly to make sure you have enough funds. Save up beforehand by sacrificing your daily Starbucks run a couple times a week or eating in, and remind yourself how much better the coffee will be in a cute European cafe. Also, make a spending budget before you leave so you’ll have clear-cut guidelines and won’t be tempted to overdo it one weekend and risk missing out the next.

During

Keep a master list to divide and conquer

Remember that research you did before arriving on your must-do activities? Use it! Keep a master list and set goals so you can make the most of your time.

“At the beginning of each week pick two or three things off that list that you hope to accomplish by the end of the week,” advises Lora. “It can be kind of overwhelming to just look at the massive scope of everything you want to do, so divide and conquer!”

Take weekend trips

Especially if you’ll be in Europe, take advantage of the close proximity of other countries and use your weekends to travel.

“I highly recommend traveling every weekend and even taking day trips,” Hannah says. “I truly never spent over an hour in my room, not including sleep. This was because I spent every other moment exploring Florence since I was only in Florence during the week.”

While in Florence, Hannah visited Rome, Assisi, The Amalfi Coast, Cinque Terre, Slovenia, Croatia and Amsterdam.

“We pretty much decided where we wanted to go each weekend a week or two beforehand and I spent every weekend traveling,” Hannah continues.

But you don’t even need to leave your host country if you don’t feel like booking flights or an Airbnb or hostel.And also—while you CAN travel cheaply, it’s still not within everyone’s budgets. While in London, Lora explored other parts of the United Kingdom that are just a train ride away.

“I love taking those trips because you gain an appreciation for what the rest of the UK is like, and then get to see how London is influenced by the rest of the country,” she explains. “Also, the British people you meet on the train are hilarious.”

Again, try and decide which destinations you most want to visit before you arrive.

Use your homework time to explore your home city

Ah yes, the “study” portion of study abroad. Unfortunately, yes, there will be homework to finish between adventures. But use your necessary study time to wander your host city and find local spots to do work, like coffee shops or parks.

“If you've got a heavy homework week, don't just stay in the dorm and ignore the opportunities around you,” advises Lora. “You can still see places by doing your homework in a park, cafe or local library.”

These neighborhood-like places give you a chance to immerse yourself in the city, rather than simply be a tourist. Once you get your bearings, don’t be afraid to step out of your program’s bubble and live like a local.

Take advantage of the group setting

One distinctive factor between studying abroad and just traveling is the group aspect. More likely than not, there will be other students in your program to travel with on the weekends and go out with. If you don’t know many people, make an effort to put yourself out there and create new friendships.

“When I went to Italy, there were only two non-Gonzaga students, including me,” says Hannah. “This meant that I went into the program blind without knowing anyone, but this was part of the adventure. The people were what really made my abroad experience so special.”

Not to mention, many programs will offer pre-planned group trips for you to take advantage of—AKA, less planning for you and an opportunity to get to know people in your program better.

Become a “yes” girl—be open to opportunities and invitations, even if it's just an afternoon stroll around the city.

Last but not least, immerse yourself in the culture. Practice your language skills, even if you’re a little rusty, or venture off the beaten tourist path. Check out the best restaurants and nightlife for a taste of what a typical weekend is like in your host city. Don’t be afraid to leave your American comfort zone and interact with the local culture.

“I recommend studying in local coffee shops and going out to experience nightlife because you will most likely only get one opportunity to live in another country,” Hannah advises. “Ask locals for recommendations because you will discover amazing cuisine and breathtaking views.”  

Snap a few pictures, but then stash your phone away and look up. There is so much going on around you and so many opportunities. Your time abroad will be over before you know it!

Kansas City native with a love for reading, writing, Julie Andrews, and tea.

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