Written by Olivia Sutton (U.S.-Indiana)
As a girl who couldn’t even sleep over at friends’ houses as a child, I was the last person you would expect to study abroad. So when it was time to board the plane from Cincinnati to Atlanta and then finally to Stuttgart, Germany, emotions were running high. It was a strange mix of excitement, nerves, and fear, but most of all I couldn’t wait to see what Germany had in store for me.
Now that I'm back home in the Midwest, I can look back on my study abroad experience and know without a doubt, it was the best five months of my life. Here are some tips that I think help in guaranteeing that your study abroad experience is second to none!
1. Pick the right school
Some people have a specific country, language, or program in mind that weighs heavily on which school they pick. Whatever your reasoning is, be sure to research your options thoroughly. I knew I wanted to study in Germany, so I looked at programs with a strong business curriculum, but also schools that weren’t too “American.” Some universities teach exclusively in English or are in touristic cities, so the authentic German atmosphere I wanted would have been missed. Tübingen was the perfect blend of business courses and a whimsical, storybook German town that welcomed me with open arms.
2. Be all in
Before I embarked on my journey, my mom gave me some good advice: “say yes to whatever is offered.” Of course, don’t partake in illegal activities or anything that makes you really uncomfortable, but if something is outside of your comfort zone, give it a shot. A few times when I thought I was too tired or something was happening too late, I remembered that advice and said yes!
My trick to breaking out of my comfort zone was to be all in during my study abroad experience. I wanted to make great friends and experience new things, and if I was afraid of that or always stayed at home, I would’ve missed out on some great people and times. If you always say no to new things, then why are you studying abroad?!
A study abroad trip is so short, so put all of your energy during this little time into your adventures. Live in the present and put your heart and soul into your new home; I promise it will pay off. Leaving Germany, I have never felt so comfortable in my own skin and it’s all thanks to being all in and living it up every day.
TIP: Rainy weather? Grab a trash bag from the hostel before you leave (or anywhere!) and protect your suitcase!
3. Treat everyone you meet as a future best friend
When I landed in Germany, I knew a few acquaintances from Butler, but that’s it. My first priority after surviving and not getting robbed was making friends, which is good because friends actually help you survive and not get robbed. I am not a judgmental person by nature and typically get along with everyone, but when studying abroad, it’s so important to treat everyone as your future best friend because they just might become one! You don’t want to burn any bridges or not put yourself out there. The people I met abroad are the reason my experience was so amazing, and I am so lucky to have a long list of best friends from all over the world.
4. Keep a travel diary
Keeping a daily account of what I did that day was trying at times, but I am so happy I made this a priority. First, it’s a great way to recount everything awesome from the day (and trust me, there will be a lot!). Second, I love opening my journals to a random date and rereading my adventures from May 10th. They bring a smile to my face, and I can relive those great times over and over again.
5. Travel alone
One of my favorite memories was when I embarked on a week-long trip all by myself. Yes, I was nervous, but I had a blast. I could see exactly what I wanted, take as many pictures as I desired without slowing down a group, and talk to a lot of cool people. Hostels are a great way to meet people too, so if you are staying in one place for a while, I’m sure it won’t take long to find some buddies to hang out with. While traveling alone, I got to discover what I enjoyed doing and push myself out of my comfort zone. I have never been more proud of myself!
TIP: Look for free tours when you visit a new city; I learned so much on these and they are a blast.
6. Travel with groups
While traveling alone is incredibly rewarding, do not say no when your friends ask you to do a trip! Gabi and Carol, my Brazilian buddies, and I had the best time touring around France and Italy. It is always great to share experiences with people and to have someone take some photos of you for once. The three of us talk about our memories from the trip all the time, and it was an experience I will never forget with people who I will cherish for a lifetime.
7. Go to class
Sometimes you will be inclined to skip classes, and every once and a while, it’s okay. But one of the big experiences from studying abroad is, well, studying! Coming from a small university, I loved seeing the differences between that and Tübingen university-which has 20,000 students. I improved my German in my German courses, and it’s really neat to have an international perspective about topics that are so familiar. Classes are also a great way to meet people and most of all, you don’t want to come back home and realize you need to retake everything.
8. No “goodbyes” only “see you laters”
The end of studying abroad is a strange feeling. I was so excited to go home to my loving family and boyfriend, but it was heart-wrenching to say goodbye to my friends. However, when I was saying my goodbyes, I knew it wasn’t goodbye forever. I have great friends in every corner of the world, from Australia to L.A. to Porto Alegre, Brazil. I cannot wait for the future visits and trips. I will have built in tour guides when I travel, and I can’t wait to open up my home to people who come to see me! Add people on Facebook and make it a point to send messages at least once a week. You won’t regret it, just like you shouldn’t regret any second of your study abroad experience.
So get out there and have the time of your life. Viel Spaβ!