5 Ways to Make the Most of Your Study Abroad Experience

It’s finally the end of spring semester! There might be some students who will be studying abroad this upcoming summer break or next semester. Although there are different types of study abroad programs, students will likely have a few things on their mind before their travel. As someone who has personally studied abroad for an entire academic year, I’m going to tell you how to enjoy your study abroad experience in five easy steps.

 

1.  Start fresh and make new friends

 

Because our social lives are so important, I think most people who will study abroad first worry about making new friends. I also worried about it a lot because my English-speaking skills were not so good initially; I thought American students wouldn’t want to talk to me as much. In addition, the fact that I am an Asian student comes with an underlying racial discrimination, which made me even more worried about making friends with other students.

 

In reality, however, this was the least of my worries during my stay. This was especially because the American students I was exposed to at Winona State were open-minded, welcoming, and understanding my not-so-great English-speaking skills. A lot of the people I met spoke slowly and translated complex phrases to other easy English words for my sake. It was really helpful for me. I especially appreciated these acts of kindness when it would take me a long time to say what I was trying to communicate.

 

I believe participating in events and club activities is the best way to make friends. If you’re going to pursue a foreign exchange program, you should look for ways to get involved on your chosen campus because you can meet many new people there. If you join in an event several times, the people who also attend will likely remember you, which makes it easy to form relationships with many people. If you don’t have confidence in your speaking skills, a good alternative would be to join sports, music or art activities. I belonged to a badminton club when I was a high school student, so I participated in the badminton club at WSU. Regardless of their nationality, I played badminton with a ton of students whom I not only knew since last semester but also whom I met for the first time. Having sports or a go-to club is a great way to better understand a person’s personality, especially potential friends, and there are many opportunities to make conversation with them. The club will essentially become your community.

 

If there is a person who also is also studying abroad and came from the same place as you, you will likely get along with them; however, you should not be together 24/7 during your stay because while it is good to make a relationship with them, you will probably rely on them to speak your own language. Instead, it is much better to hang out with local students or other international students to improve your language skills and to take full advantage of your program.

 

I won 1st place in the co-ed tournament in the Winona Badminton Association:

 

Having dinner with my Japanese, American and International friends:

 

2.  Eat local food

 

Food is one of the best communication tools in the world. Although I don’t know a lot of countries’ histories, I do know a lot of cultural food names. If you try to eat some local food, it will be a good story to share with your native friends and family back home. Ask locals about their personal food recommendations, and take the time to hang out with them. You may get lucky and find your new favorite food! Even if it turns out not to be your favorite, it will be a good experience for you to have during your stay.

 

3.  Prepare your country’s food and introduce your culture

 

You will miss your native country’s food while studying abroad. There will likely be options of your favorite dish back home, but the local restaurants don’t always match a similar taste to your country’s. In my case, there are some Japanese restaurants in the Winona area; however, all of them are Americanized, which means food look and taste different from that in Japan. Sushi is especially different because the American version is always rolling sushi. I do like the taste of it, though. If you miss your country’s food, cooking food in your country by yourself makes you feel better.

 

Japanese foods are famous in the U.S., so it’s easy to prepare them. Therefore, I taught some of my American friends how to make rolled sushi using ingredients from the supermarket. It was a good experience for me because I could teach not only the taste and visual appearance of the Japanese food, but also the cooking ways in Japan. I was happy to have Japanese-ish food with my friends. If you have a favorite food in your country, it will be good experience for you to share your food culture with your new friends for a fun time.

 

You can also bring some famous or traditional belongings to the country you’re traveling to. I brought some Japanese souvenirs to people who had helped or taken care of me during my stay. It’s okay if you choose not to do this, but introducing your culture is important for expanding your world (as well as your friends!), accepting differences from your home country and identifying who you are.

 

Making sushi rolls with my friend:

 

4.  Remember greetings

 

You should study the language which you are going to speak while studying abroad. It is also good for you to remember some other countries’ languages, especially greetings. In the country you will stay, there are some exchange students from other countries (this relates back to the point of making friends). Please imagine if you hear some phrase in your language from foreign friends. You would be surprised, right? I was personally surprised when my American and other international friends spoke some Japanese at first, which made me happy. Overall, learning greetings is a good way to expand your world and make new international friends!

 

 

5.  Traveling opportunities

 

Maybe you have already made a plan to travel somewhere in the country. Traveling not only to other cities in the country but also to other countries near the country where you study will be a good experience for you. Traveling brings you new experiences and knowledge of the place. However, it costs a lot of money to travel. If you don’t want to spend so much money, how about you go see around the school you study or the town you are in. It will be a short trip to get further acquainted with your studying place!

 

Garvin Heights:

 

New York City:

 

Chicago:

 

Studying abroad is an expensive and unexpected experience. Time flies so fast, so you should create your purpose and aim to achieve it during your stay.

 

My experience of studying in the U.S.

 

Finally, I’d like to talk about my experience in the U.S. I was so happy to study at WSU. This was my first experience to stay in a different country, which was for approximately nine months. I liked learning English, but I didn’t have confidence to speak it because I didn’t have a lot of experience talking with Americans in daily life in Japan. In addition, I had surgery two times before I came here, so I was worried about my health condition and to live in the country without my family’s support. Studying abroad was a big decision for me.

 

Everyone who I met during my stay welcomed me and were so very kind. Because of my kind friends, I didn’t feel homesick. WSU is the sister university of my university and other Japanese universities, so there were many Japanese students attending and it was easy to make a Japanese community. I am lucky to have met such good friends in Winona, and they made my study abroad a memorable experience.

 

Studying in the U.S was a precious experience that changed my mind more positive and open. (The Japanese mind and American mind are completely different!) The American nationality is open-minded, inviting, talkative, etc. Japanese are generally introverted, so because of my experience in America I was able to change my personality to more cheerful than before. This is my big change during my stay. Also, I improved English- and Spanish-speaking skills. Before I came here, I had a bias to them; however, now I really like Americans! I would like to  thank all of you I met in the U.S.

 

I want to share beautiful photos I took of the four seasons in Winona.

 

Summer

 

It was a nice weather season, so I usually went to do outside activities at the Lake Lodge:

 

Fall

 

Leaves turned to a beautiful red and orange, and the entire city became colorful. It was my favorite landscape:

 

Winter

 

I had never experienced negative 30 degree-weather before, so I was relieved I could endure the severe winter season without any accidents:

 

Spring

 

I was so happy to see beautiful cherry blossoms with Sugarloaf near East Lake:

 

Thank you so much for reading my last article from Her Campus! This was also one of the good experiences during my stay, and I appreciated the kindness and help by the members in HC to make my articles the best quality.

 

If you are planning to start studying abroad in the near future, I hope you enjoy your experience! Good luck!