I don’t mean to be the cliché student who comes back from studying abroad and always talks about it, but I really believe the past four months have taught me so much. When you travel to a foreign country with no friends or familiarity, you really learn about yourself and how you want to live life. I learned about how much I love meeting new people, trying new foods, and traveling to new places. The adrenaline of having different experiences every day is addicting, and I definitely want to continue traveling around the world after this semester abroad ends. I found out how to prioritize my time and balance my values to stay sane. After living in Istanbul for this past semester, I think I’ve finally compiled a list of my top ten tips for studying abroad:
1. There is no such thing as too many pictures or videos. Sometimes, I wish I had taken more so I could look back on seemingly mundane things and reflect on how amazing each day was.
2. Try to set yourself up for success. If you know you can’t be productive studying at your apartment, don’t go home until you have finished a portion of studying at the library or local coffee shop. If you know you’re going to get lazy, plan accommodations so that you can’t back out of plans you previously agreed to.
3. Say yes even if you want to say no sometimes. I really believe that trying everything once is essential in forming your own opinions and beliefs. Even if your friends don’t like a certain food, order it anyways because everyone’s taste buds are different. You may just find a new favorite snack or dish!
4. Reflect and find alone time to decompress. It is easy to get swept away in all of the various events, opportunities, and plans that people make while studying abroad. If you don’t reel yourself in once in a while, you may burn out and want to stay home for longer than you need to. Everyone has their own limits to how much socialization to maintain, but try not to tire yourself out too much.
5. Step out of your comfort zone; there’s really no need for awkward introductions and small talk while studying abroad. Everyone is there to have a good time, and making friends is one of the easiest things you’ll do while abroad. Take advantage of this opportunity to make lifelong friends from around the world; in the future, you can visit them in their home countries and have a worldwide network of people to lean on!
6. Don’t forget to call your parents. Studying abroad may feel like a vacation and that you’re living a fantasy life, but don’t forget to update the people who mean the most to you. Being busy is not an excuse to put off phone calls, and maintaining your relationships back in Texas is really important. Especially with my worrisome parents, sometimes a quick update is enough to calm their paranoia.
7. Stay flexible and open-minded. You’re going to meet people from all walks of life, and the last thing you need to do is make assumptions or quick judgments about who someone is. If you look past basic social identities, you can find out so much about how diverse cultures are raised differently and empathize with one another. Don’t cling to Americans too much; the point of studying abroad is being able to mingle with other cultures.
8. Ask questions to locals and stay curious. Instead of making assumptions, you’d be surprised with random facts of how a local citizen lives out their daily routine. Turkish people are extremely hospitable and emotionally driven, so they are especially easy to get close to.
9. Do some research beforehand. Ask other students who have studied abroad at the university you want to attend and figure out basic logistics so you have a general idea of what to expect. By reaching out to others, you can learn so much about what to prepare and how to pack smart. Some key things to understand before leaving include: phone plan, conversion rates, credit card international plans, course registration, apartment or housing accommodations, and visa requirements. The first month of adjusting can get stressful if you are not on top of the paperwork and required documents as an exchange student. My residence permit in particular gave me a lot of stress because there was such a detailed application process that included insurance, passport photos, and so many detailed nuances.
10. Go to your classes. This might be a no-brainer, but making excuses to skip a lecture can be a slippery slope. I also became guilty of this mindset where I convinced myself that I could explore instead of attending class is okay. Playing the catch-up game in your various courses is one of the hardest things to do, and I don’t think it is worth risking. Keep a structured schedule and make sure you block off class as a non-negotiable time frame.
I know everyone’s experience has been extremely different, but I really haven’t heard of anyone who has regretted studying abroad. I am so grateful of the friends I have made, the places I have traveled, and the countless memories I have made in this beautiful country. Turkey has my whole heart and I promise to find my way back one day.
This post was contributed by Lina Zhao, a 2018 Global Ambassador and an economics major.
Don’t get left behind. Read more about Lina’s experience in Turkey>>