Studying abroad is the first opportunity most young adults have to travel the world on their own. With all the excitement, it's easy to make some mistakes.
These 13 errors are totally common and very avoidable. Take our advice, and you'll have the best semester (or year) abroad. We promise.
1. Booking all your weekend trips in advance.
One of the best parts of studying abroad is getting to explore nearby cities and countries. It's tempting to book your adventures in advance, but it's better to wait until you get there. Budget airlines and hostels are easy to book last minute and it's fun to fly by the seat of your pants.
2. Not making a budget.
You need a weekly budget for meals, bars, transportation and random pastry shop excursions. You need a travel budget for all those weekend trips. You also need a souvenirs and gifts-for-everyone-else budget. Get budgeting.
3. Not learning the language.
Don't assume anyone speaks English. Learn some basics before you go and take a language course while you're there. You'll come back with a cool skill and you'll get a lot more respect from locals if you put some effort into communicating with them.
4. Not living with a host family or local students.
Living with a host family adds another dimension to studying abroad. You get a real glimpse of how locals live. If you can't live with a host family, living in a dorm with local students is the second-best thing. Hanging out with students from your home school or country is fun, and you should definitely have some, but you'll have a more immersive experience by bonding with locals.
5. Zoning out during orientation.
You've journeyed long and far to arrive at your destination and you're so excited to be there. So attending or paying attention to your program's orientation is probably the last thing you care about. But orientation can be chock full of nuggets of wisdom and information that you'll want to remember.
6. Buying an expensive international phone.
It makes sense to buy a local, pay-as-you-go phone for your time abroad. And you may think you need a smartphone, with a data plan and a camera and all that jazz. But honestly, you don't. It's a temporary phone and you could get pickpocketed, lose it, drop it... you're much better off getting a cheap phone to call and send texts and use your home cellphone on WiFi for everything else.
7. Thinking local rules don't apply.
Just because something is done differently where you're from, doesn't mean you can throw local rules and socials norms by the wayside. "But I'm not from here" is not an excuse. You can and will get arrested abroad for breaking laws and you'll get lots of funny looks from locals if you blatantly challenge their cultural norms. Be yourself, but be cautious of the world around you.
8. Traveling too much.
It's great to check as many places off your bucket list as possible, but if you're traveling every single weekend and never have time to explore your host city, you're going to miss out on a lot of great stuff. Also, tearing through every city you visit in hopes of "seeing it all" is a great way to see nothing. Slow down, pick the things you really want to see and you'll have a much more memorable experience.
9. Overdoing the partying.
First off, if you're hungover all the time, it's hard to appreciate life abroad by day. Secondly, other cultures have different standards for what's an appropriate amount to drink and how to behave when under the influence. Stumbling around drunk in the streets will probably not give you a great reputation. Keep it classy.
10. Not reading the fine print on your budget airline ticket.
Pro tip: small budget airlines (*cough* Ryanair *cough*) are very different from larger airlines you're probably used to flying. You could incur hefty fees for everything from overweight baggage to not printing your ticket in advance. Do your research.
11. Documenting every moment of your semester abroad.
Taking pictures and updating social media is totally normal. But when you're consumed with making a million Facebook album, Instagramming every time you encounter WiFi and find yourself taking Snapchats and selfies every five minutes, you're gonna have a bad time.
12. Flying into obscure airports because it's cheaper.
It may seem like a good idea to fly into that random airport an hour outside Paris... but unless the ticket is way cheaper, it's not worth the small savings. You'll spend more time, effort and money getting to and from the airport and will be cutting into your precious weekend.
13. Having FOMO over things happening at home.
Fear of missing out (aka FOMO) will inevitably occur when you think about all the fun things your friends back home are doing. Stop obsessively scrolling through Facebook and Skyping multiple times a day, and start living in the moment. Chances are you're having a lot more fun abroad than your friends are having at home.