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5 Ways to Make the Most of Study Abroad

5 ways to make the most of study abroad

by brianna ruffin

Many undergraduates studying at American colleges and universities eventually study abroad, typically during their junior year. According to the NAFSA: Association of International Educators, during the 2013-2014 academic year more than 300,000 American undergraduate college students studied abroad. Study abroad can be a life-changing experience. It can help many students gain independence, master fluency in a foreign language, make friends from around the world, and become more competitive in the workforce after graduation. Here are five tips to make the most out of your study abroad experience.

1. study the language

This may seem like a no-brainer, but study abroad will be a lot easier if you already speak even a little of the language of your host country, assuming that you will be studying abroad in a country whose native language is different from your own. Even if you’ve never studied the language before, you can still take the time to learn a few key phrases. Depending on the country, it may be especially important to learn words related to shopping, finances, public transportation, and illness. Buy a phrasebook designed for travelers and study as much as you can before leaving your home country. If you have studied the language in the past, spend some additional time before the start of your program continuing to study. Focus on the most useful phrases that you will likely need in everyday life.
If you already speak the language fluently, you might benefit from learning popular slang and trying to expand your vocabulary.

2: travel without a dictionary


One inventive way to learn new vocabulary is to travel without the aid of a dictionary. This forces you to ask people questions in the target language (assuming it’s not your native one) and learn how to explain things in a way that most people can easily understand. It can also lead to new experiences and help you become more comfortable talking to others in your target language. In addition, having to work harder to express yourself may make it easier for you to learn new vocabulary. For example, I will always remember the Japanese word for can opener (kankiri) because of the time I spent in a grocery store trying to explain to various store employees what I was looking for without using the word, which I did not know at the time. (It’s a bit like playing charades – though usually there’s more at stake than simply losing a game.) Experiencing the vocabulary firsthand can help you to learn many new words and phrases far more efficiently than traditional study methods. 

Please use caution when deciding whether or not to travel without a dictionary. You should only do this in relaxed situations when you have a lot of free time, as there is no telling how long this can take. Do not travel without a dictionary for pre-planned, high-risk situations such as visiting a doctor’s office or purchasing medication.

3: spend time with native speakers

Make the effort to meet native speakers who are not in your language classes and aren’t trying to help you learn the language. One of the most gratifying moments as a student of a foreign language is being able to communicate with so-called “regular” people. When you can effectively communicate with the average person, who may or may not speak your native language and may not have a lot of experience conversing with language learners, you can finally see all of your hard work paying off. Some ways to meet native speakers include volunteering, working part-time (if this is allowed), and attending meetings for organizations or groups that interest you. 

4: don't be afraid to travel alone

This strongly varies from country to country, and you should always follow any guidelines listed on the United States Department of State’s travel website in order to maximize your safety and have a great experience abroad. However, if you are in a country where it is safe for you to travel alone, spend some time exploring new places by yourself. What are your favorite kinds of places to visit in your home country? Look online and try to find similar places in your host country. When embarking on a daily adventure, make a list of several cool places to visit in case you’re unable to find all of the locations for which you are looking. That way, even if you get lost, you can still have a great time.

5: use a navigation app


In a foreign country, there’s a good chance that you won’t have the same access to wifi or data that you would in your home country. However, many navigation apps (for example, Google Maps) will track your current location even if you are not connected wifi or using data. Keeping this in mind, you can search for a specific location while you have wifi, and once you get there, your smartphone should be able to tell you where you are in relation to where you want to be. While directions will likely not work without wifi, you can still figure out where you are and how to get to your desired location more or less on your own. Using navigation apps can easily be the difference between getting lost and having a successful outing. Try several and choose the one that works the best for you in your host country.

As many students can attest, study abroad is a life-altering experience. While studying abroad, you will meet so many new people and get to experience a whole new way of life. You will make new friends, study new subjects, often in another language, and learn about social life in a foreign country. You will have the opportunity to visit amazing places that you had never heard of before. And if you don’t already speak the language, you will find yourself rapidly improving. I hope that these five tips will help you truly make the most of this wonderful experience. 

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