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Getting the most out of your study abroad experience

local customs when studying abroad are a big part of the experience
Dining at local establishments when studying abroad benefits the local economy.

Congratulations on deciding to study abroad. You are among the 1.4% of the university population that goes abroad in a given year. Yes, you read that right only 1.4% of U.S. students study abroad each year. About 260,000 students.

Study abroad will change your life. Sounds corny right? “Change your life”.


Well it will.

A survey of Semester at Sea Alumni from 1980 to 2008 revealed some interesting outcomes:

  • 90% reported that SAS had a substantial impact on their lives.
  • 97% reported that SAS was their most important college semester.
  • 73% reported the SAS experience on their lives has not diminished with time.

Those are pretty big numbers.

So how to prepare?
Read about the countries you will visit. Attend your orientation at your school and the ones offered by your program (many are mandatory anyway). At the very least learn some basic greetings and phrases in the local language. It shows respect and will give you instant credibility. Pay attention to local customs and fines. You may think the Singapore ban on chewing gum is ridiculous but the $500 to $1000 fine is no joke.

When taking photos be respectful
Those villagers are real people. Some may not want their photos taken. Being in Morocco is not the same as visiting the Moroccan pavilion at Epcot.

Go local when possible
It’s fun to go to the Hard Rock Café in Kuala Lumpur for the shirt but by visiting local establishments your money will most likely stay local. Local restaurants will offer incredible food and will usually be less expensive.

Be mindful of using local resources
Watch your water usage; turn off lights and electronics when not in your room etc.

Ease up on the texting
It’s too much to ask you to leave the cell phone behind but be in the moment. The idea of going abroad is just that. Everyone will still be there when you get back home. Don’t waste your time abroad being on your computer more than you need to be for school work.

Keep a journal
You will be going through a lot. New culture, foods, people, language. It’s a lot to process and writing it down will help you later in your experience and it is a nice keepsake from your experience that won’t cost you more than the paper and pen needed to write.

Have I missed anything? How about any of you other 1.4-percenters out there who have studied abroad? Do you have any words of wisdom to share? We’d love to hear it.

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