4 Tips to Maximize Your First Experience Abroad 

Aug 19, 2021

By Angell Kim

When given the opportunity to learn another language overseas or study abroad, you might wonder what to expect and how to reap the benefits of such an opportunity. Here are some things to keep in mind when you go overseas for that unique experience!

1. Know How You Learn

Knowing how you study and your learning strategies prior to your overseas experience will be helpful to you when adapting and figuring out how to study when you get into a new country. Do you retain information by writing, watching, or speaking out loud? Do you learn better in a space that’s quiet or with some background noise or sound? Do you remember well with colors or cards or electronically via online flashcards or typing?  

If you prefer quiet spaces, you’ll want to try to find a library or live in private housing. If you do well with colors or cards or other styles of learning, packing those items would be helpful because you might not be able to access such specific items in the country you will go or they may be cheaper in your home country. You might not be able to be in your ideal studying environment, but knowing what you need and working towards accommodating that need with the given environment and situation will teach you adaptability skills when going overseas!

2. Prepare for Culture Differences

Wherever you go abroad, the culture will be different–and you’ll see this in the food, the language, and the lifestyle. It is great to be mindful of these potential differences, and it’s even better if you read and learn about the destination country prior to arriving. Talking to friends from that country and reading about it can help prepare you to be aware and culturally mindful. 

You’ll learn sooner or later to embrace that cultures are different. Sometimes something might not be to your liking–or it may very well be! However, remember that you are the foreigner who came to learn. Being a constant learner, and viewing cultural differences through that lens, will shape your experience positively. 

3. Be Proactive in Learning the Language 

If you are studying at a university abroad or going to an academy for language learning, you will have homework! Doing your homework, going the extra mile to learn unknown vocabulary, and constantly practicing it when ordering food or when out and about are ways to reinforce your learning holistically. 

Based on tip #1, knowing how you learn will help you in your language learning. Maybe you’ll carry around a notebook to write down unknown words to look them up later or listen to music in the foreign language constantly. The point is, knowing how you learn, doing the homework, and fully immersing yourself in this experience by making friends from that country will improve your language skills.

4. Remember Why You Are There

Being overseas can be challenging at times. You will be homesick and you will miss your family and friends and your favorite foods, but visiting a new place to take a mental break or journaling to overcome these challenges can be helpful. Knowing what resets you or rejuvenates you will be important when overseas. 

You should also remember your purpose in being there when it gets challenging: Is it to learn a new culture and language? Meet new people and make connections? To gain international experience? Incorporate you in these personal goals and remember that personal development and inner growth, a new language, and the experience of being surrounded by another culture aren’t always easy, but it’s an opportunity that can change your life for the better!

In conclusion…

When you are overseas for a study abroad experience or to learn a new language, congratulate yourself on this new journey. Whether you aim to work in international relations, development, or the private or public sectors, any experience overseas shapes you to see the world differently and in a new light. Use these tips to take advantage of this unique opportunity to navigate cross-cultural environments and hone soft skills such as adaptability and flexibility in diverse circumstances. These are the kind of skills you want to gain and constantly develop to attain your personal and professional goals and, ultimately, be a global citizen!

Angell Kim graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations and Global Studies and a Minor in Latin American Studies. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer from Colombia (2016-2018), a 2020 Donald M. Payne International Development Fellow, and is a 2020 Paul D. Coverdell Fellow and MPA student at the University of Arizona.

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