9 Common Study Abroad Mistakes & What To Do Instead

If you are lucky enough to have the opportunity to study abroad in college, take it. From traveling across Europe to exploring the “land down under,” there are so many adventures to be had around the world. And what better time to immerse yourself in different cultures than college? You’re already expanding your knowledge and learning more about who you are, studying abroad will help you to do this in an even more unique way.

We spoke with a variety of collegiettes about their study abroad experiences, but more importantly, their mistakes. They shared their insights about certain mistakes they made as well as advice on what to do instead. Basically, they told us what you can do to make your time abroad even better!

1. Not taking the time to do things on your own

Traveling alone can be intimidating. New people, new faces and little knowledge about where you are is a turnoff for many collegiettes. Alanna O’Connell, a senior at Marist College, shares why she believes it’s important to venture out of your comfort zone to truly immerse yourself in new things.

“As fun as it is to do everything with friends, it’s also nice to take time to do things on your own,” she says. “Go on a run at the city’s riverside, visit a museum, walk to that hidden sandwich shop you once saw. Doing things like this alone gives you a new appreciation for the country you’re living in and time to reflect on your adventure. At the end of the day, this is your time abroad, so do what you want when you want!”

Who doesn’t want to be an independent woman? As long as you’re safe in your explorations, don’t be afraid to try new things alone!

2. Overpacking

This is something most ladies can relate to, on any trip we take. It’s easy to think you’ll need every cute clothing item you own, but in reality, you should focus on the necessities. Alysson Aquaviva, a senior at Southern New Hampshire University, made this mistake her first time abroad. “For some reason, I thought I would need ten clubbing dresses and one pair of jeans and no winter jacket," she says. "I also thought bringing two pairs of four-inch heels to a cobblestone city was smart. Let’s just say those lasted one night only. Also, I didn’t save any space for when I was coming home so I spent about two days trying to figure out how to stuff things accumulated over four months into two suitcases.”

One of the worst things is having to leave behind some of your belongings because they won’t fit in your suitcase. This is where owning a lot of basics can come in handy. You can pack the essentials and spend your money on fun accessories abroad, which take up less room and keep you looking stylish.

3. Not keeping a journal

Journaling, or even blogging, is a great way to help you remember specifics about your trips. While abroad you’ll usually travel to other cities or even countries. You do so much that it becomes a blur, but keeping a journal can help you revisit special moments.

“I really wish I put in the effort to even jot down some of my feelings and experiences that I had,” Aquaviva says. “Being able to look back at a certain day and remember how I was feeling or what was going on at that time would have been nice,” Aquaviva suggests taking a lot of photos if you’re not one who enjoys writing. “I will always be able to cherish them,” she says.  

We say do both! Start a blog or write in a journal, but definitely take lots of pictures! These are all great ways to revisit certain memories years later.

4. Not exploring your host city

No matter where you study, it’s important to take the time to get to know the area you’re living in. Many people get wrapped up in the idea of travel, which is wonderful, but if you have the opportunity to learn more about your host city, don’t pass it up. Aquaviva shares her regrets from studying abroad her first time around.

“Not taking the opportunity to appreciate and explore my surroundings as much was a very big mistake,” she says. “As amazing as it was to travel around to nine other countries during my stay, I feel as if I did not have the chance to really get to know the area that I lived in.” This resulted in not making as many connections with locals or fully indulging in the food and social culture of that area.

It’s easy to get swept up in the thought of travel, but it can be even more rewarding to truly get to know the area you’re living in. Plus, you can always return to explore different places another time!

Related: Where You Should Study Abroad, Based on Your Zodiac Sign

5. Not doing research on the places you visit

Spontaneous travel is no doubt exciting, but sometimes researching places before you go to them will allow you to fully make the most of it. Juliet Goulet, a senior at Bishop's University, talks about wishing she knew more about events before they happened.

“Partying is fun, and I spent a lot of my time doing it, but I missed out on so many things because I didn’t spend the time to research them. Every so often I would stumble on something, like a Christmas market, and be wowed by the intricacy, quality and atmosphere. And I would want more, and curse my terrible luck that I didn’t know about them sooner.”

Although there is always plenty to do and partying abroad seems to be a must, researching ahead of time might help you discover more culturally rich things to do or places to visit.

Doing research can also save you money. Erin Lovett, a senior at Lasell College, says, "A lot of people don't check all of their options when it comes to booking flights and hostels. I have learned that it is best to do your research and look through all of your options. Whether this means taking a bus instead of a plane or staying in a hostel a little outside of the city to save money, it's worth it." Be sure to take the extra time to compare prices and find the best options for your journeys before you finalize your plans. 

6. Saying no

Similar to exploring alone, trying new things can be nerve-racking. This usually leads to you saying “no” due to the fear of going out of your comfort zone. Juliet shares why you have to give yourself the chance to try new things, even if your natural instinct is to say no.

“Whether it’s trying food you’ve never eaten before, hanging out with classmates you don’t know very well yet or taking an impromptu trip across the country, you should be able to finish your exchange experience with a long list of things that you said 'yes' to,” she says.

“On the very first night, I met my new roommates, one of them had the idea to go to a pub. I was tired, jet-lagged and hadn’t even unpacked yet, but found myself ordering a 1£ beer and having one of the best nights of my four months there.”

Her memorable night never would've happened if she had said no. Don’t be scared to try new things and branch out to meet new people. Clearly, it can be very rewarding.

7. Not bringing enough money

It’s no secret that traveling can be expensive. Being a full-time college student doesn’t make this any easier, either. Making sure to go abroad with a budgeted amount of money is important because it will allow you to do more things.

“I worked two jobs the summer before I left and made enough money for my semester abroad that I literally lived like a Florentine princess,” Maria Rago, a senior at Emmanuel College says. “I shopped. I went on trips almost every weekend and I never said no, unlike some of my friends. There is no 'next time' so take advantage of the trip you’re on. Get lost, make friends, cry happy tears, but never turn something down because of money.” We love this mindset, but realize every situation is different. Don’t be afraid to budget for the more important things you want but never turn down the chance to indulge. You’re only abroad once, so enjoy yourself!

8. Over-planning

There is a definite comfort that comes with plans. You know what to expect and this can be necessary in some cases, but what’s the fun in that?

Juliet, a planner herself, tells why she wishes she was a tad more spontaneous during her time abroad. “You never know the adventures you can have when you just decide to go. Instead of worrying about sticking to a plan you get to enjoy the world around you,” she says. “Once, I was taken on a surprise trip to Bath. I knew nothing about the trip, which albeit scary was also exhilarating. It was the most spontaneous thing I did that semester, and I loved every minute of the adventure.”

Spontaneity always seems to lead to the best stories. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.

9. Getting hung up on the things you didn’t get to do

The sad thing about studying abroad is that it usually only lasts for a semester. This means your time is limited, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. If anything, it makes your time more valuable so you can truly focus on the things you want to do. Juliet shares why you shouldn’t dwell on the things you missed.

“You’ll never have the chance to do everything," she says. "You’re only one person in a big foreign country, and you’d need an entire lifetime to experience everything. You should leave your time abroad thinking of all the positive experiences you had, not stuck on the things you never did.”

This thought is true in all aspects of life. Why focus on the negatives or dwell on the things you missed when there is so much else to smile about? Realize your time is precious and plan your adventures abroad accordingly.

No matter where you go or who you travel with, keeping a positive mindset and an open heart is a must. Trying things out of your comfort zone can help you discover a lot about who you are, or better yet, who you want to be. Be sure to take time to explore safely on your own and never turn down an opportunity to be adventurous. This world has a lot to offer, and hopefully, with these tips you will make the most of your travels!