Don’t travel while you’re there
This tip will probably be pretty unpopular. I realize how tempting it is to travel all over the continent you’re studying abroad on. Yet, I highly encourage you to stay put. The more you travel, the more of a vacation your semester becomes, and the less of a cultural ambassador you have the opportunity to be. If you’re constantly on-the-go, you forfeit the opportunity to truly immerse in a culture or a language. Your chances to develop and foster relationships with locals lessen. The truth is, if you’re going abroad just to travel around for a couple of months, you can do that anytime. There is nothing about a “Eurotrip” that will make your study abroad experience unique. Anyone can travel around, but to truly live in another country is a gift. Treat it like one.
Learn the language
This should seem obvious, but I want to reiterate the value of learning your local language. More frequently, study abroad programs are becoming available in English, even if the local language is not English. This can be a good thing! Taking an entire semester in a foreign language is difficult no matter how many years you’ve practiced. But, this doesn’t give you a free pass. Even if your classes are in English, refuse to speak English when going out or chatting with locals. Make time every day to study the language, at least for a bit. Some linguistic experts claim the only true way to learn a language is by immersion. So, immerse yourself! Don’t let that opportunity slip away.
Start a travel blog with intention
Starting a blog for your study abroad time is a great idea because it allows you to share your journey with friends and family without individually e-mailing everyone. Take your blog a step further by focusing on observations about one specific aspect of your country’s culture. Studying abroad in Latin America? Blog about how the country is handling climate change and how it’s affecting the economics, politics, and social practices of that nation. Studying abroad in Europe? Write about your observations of the immigration crisis in particular neighborhoods. Studying abroad in South America? Record your experiences learning Spanish and the notable differences of expression found in English versus Spanish. Blog with intention. This will also be a great platform for you to have when you return and begin looking for jobs or fellowships.
Try to branch out from your study abroad program and find a volunteer opportunity on your own. You can even try to create a volunteer project of your own if you feel comfortable coordinating. This is a great opportunity for you to contribute to and deepen your knowledge in a cause that you care about. You’ll learn more about the issue at hand and more about how the community is responding to that issue. I further encourage you to volunteer on a regular basis, not just as a one-time occasion. Not only will you learn more and help more, you have the opportunity to make meaningful relationships with those your helping and your fellow volunteers.
IELTS Examiner, British Council Pakistan