Get the most out of your time abroad!

INFORMATION – learn about study abroad and adapt expectations
Students who take the time to seriously think about what they expect out of their study abroad experience often report feeling more successful throughout their time abroad. If you have already thought through your goals and written a “Letter to Yourself”, you have taken a step in the right direction! Preparing for your sojourn by reading up on the host country and culture can also help a lot. As one student put it, “It’s hard to adjust to a place you know nothing about.” Knowing yourself and how you tend to approach new experiences can make a big difference too.

Before going abroad, it may help you to take a survey or two to see what your preferred learning styles are and think about which strategies could help you approach language and culture learning overseas. Click on the below links to print out some helpful surveys from the Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition (CARLA) at the University of Minnesota.
[Page numbers on the surveys refer to Maximizing Study Abroad: A Students’ Guide to Strategies for Language and Culture Learning and Use, available online from CARLA at: http://www.carla.umn.edu/resources/working-papers/index.html]

INTERACTIONpursue target language contact and communication
When you are feeling overwhelmed by the language barrier, it is tempting to withdraw and avoid potentially difficult interactions with native speakers. This is when you need to make a concerted effort to get out and talk to people! Don’t be a perfectionist, and don’t resort to English all the time. If your goal is to learn French, then pursue that goal! Get out and talk to shopkeepers, people at the market…try to connect with people. Be open to talking to people who you might not normally interact with – young children and older people have a lot of free time and are usually enthusiastic conversational partners!

INTROSPECTION – continually reflect on experiences to put them in perspective
One of the best ways to keep perspective on what’s going on in your life is to keep a journal. When chatting with friends it’s easy to get carried away and embrace the drama in your life, expressing extreme emotions about everything and everyone – from  your professors, to that rude guy at the internet café who ignores you when it’s time to pay. Unfortunately, we rarely learn anything from this kind of venting. You may be alternatively elated and depressed by your experiences abroad, and recording your feelings in the moment will give you an outlet for these feelings, while at the same time providing you with a record of your thoughts that you can go back to time and time again when you are trying to make sense of what you learned while abroad. You’ll be surprised what you realize about yourself when you have the added advantage of time and space to help you process your experiences. Students often talk about the “life changing” nature of study abroad, and reviewing your journal once you are home will help you articulate the new skills and perspectives you gained while abroad.

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