Tips for a Fun and Productive Study Abroad Experience
This blog post was written by Brett Bottomley ’19…
Since ten of my lacrosse teammates, as well as hundreds of thousands of university students, will be heading to a foreign country to study abroad this fall, I thought it would be helpful to share some of my tips from my previous study abroad experiences. To give some background, I have spent time studying in China, India, Japan, and Russia while attending Babson College. For ten days in January 2017, I completed an Elective Abroad in Tokyo which focused on entrepreneurship and the complexities of the business world in Japan. In the fall of 2017, I spent one month a piece studying culture, history, and business in Russia (St. Petersburg & Moscow), entrepreneurship in China (Beijing & Shanghai), and world religions in India (New Delhi) as part of the Babson BRIC program. I am currently an exchange student completing coursework in accounting and finance at one of the top business schools in Asia; Singapore Management University (SMU) in Bras Basah, Singapore.
- Familiarize yourself with the city/country
- Before departing for your destination, you should familiarize yourself with the city and country’s history, geography, influential people, government, economy, current events, etc. While no one expects you to be an expert, it certainly helps to have a strong base of knowledge. First, it shows that you are genuinely interested in and care about the city that you will be living in for the next four months. Second, it helps with academics as many liberal arts courses require you to read some of the country’s famous literary works which reference historical events and people. Lastly, you will be able to make connections between the city’s history and current events going on in the region, enabling more intelligent conversations with locals.
- Pack wisely
- Less is more when you are traveling. Lay out everything you want to bring with you on your bed and group them by category (t-shirts, shorts, etc.). After that, put half of everything you laid out into your suitcase and the other half back in your drawers and closet. It is unnecessary to bring so many clothes as rooms in other countries will typically be smaller than what you are used to, and you can always buy additional clothes at local markets, often for much cheaper than back home.
- Challenge your senses
- After arriving at your hotel, dorm, apartment, etc. and setting down your bags, go out and explore. Make sure you engage all of your senses will walking through new areas. Sight might be the most obvious, but sound and smell are incredibly important as well, especially in markets and food establishments. Do not only go to the tourist attractions; think outside the box, and you will stumble upon some hidden gems. Connect with local students and get their recommendations.
- Stay in touch
- Remember that studying abroad is not just an experience for you, but also your parents and family members, friends, and professional network. Be sure to set-up a time to regularly check in with your family to let them know you are doing fine as well as share your experiences and highlights so far. I think it is beneficial to start a blog as it forces you to reflect on your favorite memories and address some difficulties faced during your abroad journey. Keeping a blog makes it easier to articulate your experience to family, friends, and potential employers down the road.
- Articulate your experience
- After returning home, take a deep breath and relax. Often students face reverse culture shock when returning home as home will likely be different from abroad and different from what you expect it to be like. Coming back home to Seattle from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai and New Delhi required some adjustment but being surrounded by family and friends eased the transition. After taking time to recollect yourself, spend time reflecting and articulating your experience. So many people are going to ask you how your time abroad was so you need to have a better answer than “fun.” I am a firm believer in it is not just saying what you did, but what you got out of it. Articulation is especially crucial for full-time job, and internship interviews as only about 10% of U.S. students study abroad so having your experience on your resume will make you stand out and will certainly attract questions about your time abroad.
- Be a mentor to others
- As someone who has been fortunate enough to spend a good chunk of time abroad, I enjoy being a mentor and advocate for those pondering the idea of spending a semester abroad. The rise of technology, specifically in telecommunications, internet, and transportation, has made the world increasingly small and connected. Students can choose from hundreds of cities and programs to partake in. It is important to evaluate every program through your own criteria rather than just following the crowd to the most popular
I hope everyone has a great time abroad. Feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions about how to articulate your abroad experience on your resume, time management skills while abroad, or anything else.