College offers a lot of opportunities and resources for us students to take advantage of. And if the timing is right and you have some luck, you could have the wonderful opportunity of studying abroad!
I studied abroad last semester in Seoul, South Korea and although it was a thrilling experience, there were some things I had to learn the hard way that would have been helpful if I’d known them beforehand. Studying abroad is a great experience for college students and although it offers a lot of excitement, there are also precautions one must take while living in a new country. For those who are nervous about their upcoming trip abroad, here are some tips to keep you safe, aware, and to help you make the most of your opportunity of studying in a foreign country.
Be street smart. Watch out for alcohol spiking, needles, strangers in the street, etc. It may sound like an exaggeration, but people can do pretty crazy things. As an American, you are pretty obvious to spot out, especially if you don’t fit the racial demographic of the country you’re studying abroad in. Because of this, you will be targeted for scams and other sketchy behavior. Beware of tourist traps and tricks and get tips from locals (and from tiktok of course).
Use social media to your utmost benefit as a foreigner. My friends and I used Tiktok all the time to find cool restaurants, places to explore in the city and to also find which places were more friendly towards foreigners in Seoul. There were a lot of TikToks that gave ratings for foreigners, showing which places that spoke english and which clubs were safer than others. You can also use social media to find out which apps are the most helpful for the country you’re living in. Through social media I was able to get apps to helped me navigate the subway, order delivery food, and translate different languages into English.
Befriend the locals, or at least the ones you can. I know it’s easier to befriend other people who are also studying abroad, which you should. But being friends with people who actually live in the country will enhance your experience a lot. I had a couple of friends who were already living in Seoul for a couple of years or who’d been there before, and I was able to find cool shopping centers and other unique restaurants and experiences that I wouldn’t have found on my own.
Try to schedule your classes to give you as much free time as you can. I had to choose and schedule my own classes through Korea University and I chose late afternoon classes because I wanted to sleep in. I did get more sleep, but because my classes ended around 5:00 or 6:00 pm there were more experiences and places that I missed out on. Because places closed around 9 pm and traveling on foot and subway took up time, I had limited time to explore and do things after dinner.
Pack as light as you can. I know this is a common tip, but believe me that it will make your trip less of a headache when you come back from studying abroad. It’s not necessarily the size that will make packing annoying (although it could be), but it’s the weight that will throw you off and make you want to rip your hair out. If you want to save money, bring a scale that measures your suitcase weight and double check to make sure if your airline offers free double carry-on or check-in luggage. I brought one big check-in suitcase and one carry-on suitcase along with my backpack on the flight to Korea. But by the end of the semester, I had too much stuff so I had to get another check-in suitcase. Luckily my airline (Korean Air) offered 2 free check-in luggages so I managed to bring most of my stuff back.
Be respectful of cultural differences. There are different customs and cultural expectations in different countries and you should do your research to know as much as you can. Learn about what is considered rude or polite, different hand motions and what they mean, and other cultural differences that you think could happen in your daily life. This can help lower the culture shock and can prevent sticky situations.
And lastly, be open to new experiences. I feel like the whole point of studying abroad is to immerse yourself in new and different things. Studying abroad can be scary and uncomfortable because you are instantly put in a new environment, but there are a lot of cool experiences you can gain if you let yourself get out there and go beyond your comfort zone.
Not everyone’s study abroad experience is the same, and it shouldn’t be. So don’t feel bad if other people seem to be doing more fun things or if you feel burnt out. Rest, rejuvenate, and have fun the best way you can. :))