Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You learn how to live on your own in a foreign city and plan your own trips. You gain global experience and learn about other cultures. But most importantly, you learn a lot about yourself. Your experience will probably not be as flawless as it appears to be on your Instagram, but it will be an incredible opportunity for growth, self-reflection and exploration.
Be sure to explore your own city because you picked it for a reason. Make a list before you go of places and things that you want to see and do, and continue to add to the list throughout the semester. It’s a strange feeling to think that a foreign city will begin to feel like home after a short amount of time. You may find yourself watching Netflix for hours in pajamas or revisiting certain restaurants and bars. While it's definitely important to allow yourself to settle into your new home, be sure to still explore. Get off at a random metro stop and stumble upon a cute café or a nice cocktail bar. Don’t wait until the last week to squeeze in all of the activities and restaurants that you originally wanted to try, and most certainly don’t be free afraid to do something or go somewhere out of the ordinary.
Planning weekend trips takes a lot of work and can often become expensive. Skyscanner is a great website to find cheap flights, but also keep in mind that budget airlines often come with hidden costs. Although personal recommendations are great, be sure to read reviews before picking accommodation, restaurants, and activities. Airbnb has many affordable and nice places to stay, but definitely make sure that they are in a good locations and that the host is rated well (use ATA's link for $35 off your first stay). Traveling really adds up financially, so it is not realistic to visit every tourist attraction a city has to offer. Find out what you like and set your priorities. You may find that churches in different cities look similar or that you prefer outdoorsy activities to museums. Whatever you prefer, focus on what you will remember. Sometimes there is great value in simply walking around a city and people watching. If you are looking for relatively inexpensive trips, definitely check out Bus2Alps (use promo code ALLTHINGSABROAD for a discount!).
Four months in a foreign city seems like a dream, and it is, but it is not always fun and games. What happens when you get sick and the local pharmacy doesn’t carry any medicine that you recognize? How do you focus on school work or finding an internship when you have so many fun things to look forward to? What do you do when you realize that your spending has tripled from a typical month? Are you able to be miles away from a close friend or relative when you really need a shoulder to lean on? All of these questions represent struggles that you may experience during your semester abroad. It is important to recognize each as an opportunity to grow.
Most likely for the first time, you are fending for yourself. You have to learn how to budget, how to stay on top of your work, how to plan trips, all while embracing the best months of your life. You may teach yourself how to cook in order to save money, grow comfortable with being alone, and learn what really is important to you. A semester abroad is an opportunity to rid yourself of stress and drama, so embrace it! Travel the world, indulge in good food and drinks, make new friends and create lasting memories. You are lucky to have been given this experience.