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Top 5 Study Abroad Mistakes

No matter how cliché it may sound, studying abroad is a life changing experience. But only if you make the most of it. Over the years I have seen students make the following mistakes again and again:

1. It's called study abroad for a reason... it is not a vacation!
For some reason students feel that studying abroad is more of a vacation then an academic semester in a foreign country. Every year I witness students fail their classes. I find this mind boggling since most study abroad classes are designed to enhance your experience with important and meaningful background information and excursions. In addition to relating directly to your experiences abroad, most study abroad courses design their course load to fit your excursion/activity schedule, and many summer programs assign the bulk of the work for when you return home.

I always tell students, if you wanted a vacation, you should have taken one. You could have saved all that money you spent on tuition! Students who make the most of their study abroad experience value the education they receive while abroad and recognize that while it would be easier to not have homework or wake up early to visit a museum, studying Leonardo da Vinci and then seeing his work in real life, is a once in a lifetime learning opportunity.

2. You spend all of your time with fellow Americans speaking English.
I get it, being in a foreign country and not knowing the language is challenging. You will naturally gravitate to other Americans who share your culture and language. While there is nothing wrong with bonding with other Americans abroad (you will most likely become very close with others in your program), you should also try to meet and mingle with locals (always being safe of course)!

3. You prioritize drinking and partying.
Many students who study abroad are not of legal drinking age in the U.S. They arrive abroad to discover it is completely legal to consume alcohol. Of course, many are already aware of this, and sadly, it's their main motivation for studying abroad. This is not a legitimate reason to study abroad. Let me repeat, if you primary reason for spending thousands of dollars to study abroad is to drink, you need to reevaluate your priorities and plan your own personal vacation.

While drinking and partying may not be a motivating factor for you, once abroad many students get swept up in local club culture. Too much alcohol and too many late nights will quickly derail your study abroad experience. Like anything, drinking and partying are best in moderation.

4. You budget too little and pack too much.
I always advice students to layout everything you want to pack. Then subtract half and double your spending money. While this sounds extreme, I give this advice from plenty of first hand experience. Every year students pack way too much and are miserable lugging it around a foreign country, which more often than not is filled with uneven sidewalks and lots of stairs. Many students also underestimate their spending money and it's always better to over-budget rather than under-budget.

5. You expect everything to function like it does at home.
I don't know why students expect everything (everywhere) to work like it does in the U.S. Well, I kind of do and I think it is a deeper issue in our society and one of the reasons Americans should study abroad to begin with (click here to read more about this). I digress, but my point is that if Italy, for instance, was exactly like the U.S. you would have no reason to go in the first place. The beauty of it is that it's different. You will have culture shock (for sure) and you don't have to love everything about your new "home," but try to accept things for the way they are. I always tell my students to embrace the difference and proclaim "when in Rome!"

Have you studied abroad? If so, what do you wish some one had told you before studying abroad?

Ashley B
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  1. These are great tips! There's only one real regret that I've got from my undergraduate degree and that's not going to study abroad!

    Belle //

  2. I'm currently studying abroad in Bologna and have been here since the end of August. I've definitely fallen victim to some of these, especially sticking too closely to the Americans. I know many Italians and can speak the language, but I can't say that I have any significant Italian friends yet. That's definitely something I'm trying to work on in the next half of my year abroad!

    xx MER

  3. Great post!!!!!

    I've studied abroad twice; once to the UK for 3 months in my undergrad, and once to Russia when I did my Masters.

    UK was relatively easy; but Russia was much harder. One thing I wish I had of known was to bring (well, download) more movies and books! There was a week or two when I was in Russia where I just needed an escape... and well, it's hard to get that in Russia if you speak English!

  4. Great post! I'm not quite sure yet if I want to study abroad. Although I think it would be an amazing experience.

  5. Great advice! I've seen so many posts that basically say "party and don't study," and I'm like, "Nooo!" I'm currently studying abroad in Québec (not part of an official program but kind of doing my own post-college thing) and while I don't stress about my classes, I am doing all the work and trying to do my best. As you said, if you just want to mess around, go on vacation!


  6. I never studied abroad but I think these are great tips! I love that you said to mingle with non-americans, which I never would have thought of but you're right it would definitely enhance the experience!

  7. These are definitely great tips! I studied abroad in France the summer after my second year and saw many people making a lot of these mistakes. Because I'm Canadian, I was already old enough to drink legally at home and I had always wanted to study French in France so I knew what I was getting myself into - but a lot of people don't. One thing I would also really recommend, on the opposite extreme of these tips, is to not take your studies too seriously. You are there to learn, but you are also there to take in the culture - I know from my experience that once I found that balance, I had a much better and more rewarding experience!

    xo, Katie

  8. Great advice! I wish I knew that I could buy my favorite shampoo, conditioner, soap, makeup, etc. in another country. If I can't find the exact brand/type, I try a new one and often end up liking it better than my usual brand from back home. I recommend students pack what they want to bring and walk around for one hour with it so they can "feel the weight" of their luggage. Then, go home and take out at least half!


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