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Back To School: The Dos And Don'ts Of Studying Abroad

The Huffington Post    
First Posted: 08/24/11 05:55 PM ET Updated: 10/24/11 06:12 AM ET

Thousands of students study abroad each year, embarking on what will be, for some, the experience of a lifetime. The semester or year abroad offers a few precious months to get to know a city or country, so how to make the most of it? Here are a few dos and don'ts to help guide the path of any young study-abroader.

Don’t Be Limited to Your School’s Programs
Most universities make it easy for their students by offering their own study abroad programs. The discussion would end there if every school had a program in every city. They don’t. If you really want to spend a semester in Paris and your school only offers summers in Marseille, compromise is only one option.

Rather than choosing a location based on what’s available, think about what will be the most intriguing place to live and go there. There are countless independent study abroad companies with programs in Barcelona, Bangkok and everywhere in between. Browse through Studyabroad.com, which maintains a pretty comprehensive database of programs around the world to find your perfect fit.

Do Embrace Local Lifestyle
With so many American students and expats floating around, it’s easy to get cozy with other study abroaders or a pub full of displaced (and delightfully rowdy) Aussies, but you don’t have to leave the states to do that. Take the opportunity to get in-tune with a whole new lifestyle. Join a club or a sports league. If you’re feeling more sedentary, pick a bar or coffeehouse and become a regular. Whatever you do, don’t forget to delve into local arts and literature. Reading local newspapers and alternatively publications will help you learn about your adopted country and find interesting events.

Don’t Travel With Your Significant Other
It sounds like a collegiate romance novel: gallivanting across Europe, boyfriend or girlfriend in tow, kissing atop the Eiffel Tower or getting frisky in a candlelit Italian cafe. But the postcard perfect romance comes at a cost. All that together time is time missed getting to know other students or making local friends.

Assuming you’re in a long term relationship (even granting that such an assumption might be absurd when talking about college students) there will be time later for a romantic foreign vacation. If things go sour because you’ve headed overseas, you’ll at least be dealing with a break up while having the time of your life.

Resist temptation or heartache by flying solo, or, if the trip must be for two, at least go with different programs so there’s some healthy separation.

Do Get Out of Town
Perhaps the coolest part of studying abroad is the great opportunity it gives students to wander around. Airlines like Ryanair and AirAsia shrink their respective continents to fit students’ smaller budgets. In the time it would take to fly coast-to-coast in the US, you can be in go from London to Budapest. Do it.

Don’t Forget to See the Sights in Your Own City
Too often students put off exploring their host cities, thinking that they can tour the neighborhood at any time. Before they know it, it’s time to board a plane home and they haven’t seen X and Y -- they don’t even know where Z is. Remember that just because you will be living in Prague come September doesn’t mean you’re moving there forever.

Make a point of visiting at least one local landmark each week. Many places make this easy with killer student discounts. This is particularly true in Europe, where flashing a student ID can get you a year’s access to the Louvre for the price of two visits to KFC. Also, take advantage of the free admission days offered by local museums and historic sites.

Photo: MPD01605/Flickr

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