4 quick tips for a successful study abroad experience

This semester, I’m spending my days in Salamanca, Spain, as part of an immersion program for my Spanish major at Wake Forest University. Choosing this path is never easy and comes with a handful of ups and downs, but I can say with 100% confidence that I’m soaking up every bit of my time here and can’t believe I only have less than 2 months to go. While living full-time in a foreign country for an entire semester can definitely seem and feel daunting, I’ve come up with a couple (hopefully) helpful pointers and words of wisdom that can serve to ease your adjustment abroad or maybe even convince you towards deciding to study abroad!


1. Pack light and pack smart

Packing has never been my strong suit, mostly because I tend to throw in way more than I need in my suitcase and end up with an overload of toiletries and clothes that I’m never going to use (i.e. my first two years of college). What’s great about my program is that I’m living with a host family, so I didn’t have to worry about lugging any furniture along with me like I did when moving into my dorm room. When packing make sure to prepare for weather changes above all else. I packed a variety of dresses, shorts, rompers, etc, but also kept in mind that after the first month or so the temperatures would drop significantly and I would need a couple sweaters, a big coat, a raincoat, boots, fuzzy socks -- basically any essentials from your fall / winter wardrobe. At the same time, be sure not to pack too many clothes because you’re most definitely going to shop and may not have room left in you’re suitcase when it’s time to pack up and go home. Keep in mind as well that things you may need throughout the semester such as shampoo and school supplies are easily accessible in whatever city you may be staying. 


2. Change your phone to the language of the country in which you’re studying

This recommendation is obviously more specific to anyone part of an immersion program, but if you’re a member of that group, then read on! I changed my phone in settings to Spanish after the first two weeks or so of my program and have already noticed an immense improvement in my vocabulary and understanding of the colloquial language. Because I’m on my phone 24/7, adapting my brain to Spanish has helped immerse myself further in the culture and I’ve even become accustomed to thinking and dreaming in Spanish. What’s most exciting is that I’ve learned several new slang words of social media -- such as how to say post, tag, profile picture, snapchat story, et cetera. 


3. Be careful with your money

As I touched on before, when you go abroad, there’s no question that you’re going to spend money. On my way to class I go down one street filled with 2 Zara’s, a Mango, an H&M, and several other off-brands that are way cheaper than most stores in the United States. Of course, I feel tempted every second of every single day, but the most important word to remember is budget. Even besides shopping, some of my friends and I often like to go to the plaza for tapas and drinks after classes or for a casual night on the weekends. However, we can’t keep up this trend for over 3 months. It costs an exorbitant amount to simply go abroad in the first place. So, it’s vital to decide when you truly need to spend your money -- especially if you’re going to be booking flights and traveling over the weekends, since it’s very easy to visit different places in Europe, for example. 


4. Understand every experience is unique and never perfect

My final thought is more than just a helpful tip, but rather a strong piece of advice I’ve come to accept after living in Spain for 7 weeks. People often say studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity and one of the greatest times in your life, and while I can say these things are indeed somewhat true, often the reality fails to match our exceedingly high expectations. I underestimated how homesick I would get and how frustrated I would get within the first few weeks of adapting to a foreign language and learning to deal with mishaps in communication. However, I also know I need to make this experience my own and take the inevitable adversities in stride because I never will have the chance to potentially become fluent in a language or spend time with my incredible host family ever again. I try my best everyday not to compare my experience with anyone else’s on my program -- while it sounds cheesy, I merely want to enjoy my time while it lasts and focus on the main reason I’m here -- to learn, and obviously to make unforgettable memories. 


While an immersion program may not be the one for you, there are countless options available that may pique your interest. Whatever you decide, hopefully these tips can guide you in some sort of direction and provide you with a glimpse of what study abroad is really like!