Anyone participating in a short-term study abroad program will soon realize that they wish they had more time in the city they are studying in. It will probably be enough time to familiarize yourself with the city, but like almost every study abroad-er, you’ll leave wanting more. I can remember the dread I felt on my last day in London; I felt like I had missed out on so much that London and England had to offer and I wanted nothing more than to stay in the U.K. Still, there are a few ways to ensure that you make the most of your time abroad.
Make a List
Before you leave for your destination, do some research. Make a list of everywhere you want to go and write it down (how about in this fun journal?) Organize all the places by their location to each other so that you can visit multiple spots in one day and not waste time traveling from one side of the city to another. The best way to do this is to familiarize yourself with the local transportation system before you arrive, whether it is an underground (subway) or bus system. By hitting a few attractions on your list that are situated around the one bus or underground stop, you’ll save time so you don’t have to keep crossing the city. While I hope you make it to everywhere on your list, you may consider organizing it by priority: do the “must see” places first. Then, if you do run out of time because of getting sidetracked, etc, you won’t feel as badly about missing the sights at the end of your “must-see” list!
Don’t Be Afraid to Go with the Flow
While I think that being organized can ensure that you see much of the city, don’t be afraid to change plans and go on an adventure if you’re invited. If you see a market you have never heard of, explore it. If you hear of something culturally cool like a local tradition or a festival in the area, check it out. Be a curious traveler and discover everything you can. If you’re a little apprehensive to go wandering on your own, make it a goal of yours to make some local friends and hopefully you can tag along with them on some of their outings.
Ask the Locals
As I just mentioned, make sure to make time to meet some locals. They give the city so much of its personality and bring it alive. Then, ask them where their favorite places are; you’ll probably discover restaurants, pubs, parks and markets off the typical tourist path and maybe will even begin to feel like a local yourself in your short time there. If they become good enough friends of yours, they might even take you on a tour of their favorite spots, tell you some insider secrets about your new home, and maybe even introduce you to some connections that will make the city spring alive in different ways you never could’ve imagined!
Everyone who studies abroad should immerse themselves in the local culture, but it’s even more important if you’re only there for a short period. If you’re in a place that speaks a foreign language, learn it! Learn it before you even arrive and practice every single day. Challenge yourself to not speak English if you can. Watch movies, read books, and listen to music in your new language. You should even participate in local customs and celebrations; by the end of your time abroad, be proud that you have lived like a local for the entirety of the stay, and maybe can even tell people about it in the local dialect!
Never, Ever, Ever Waste Time & Don’t Sleep In
Don’t ever find yourself sitting around your home watching movies. Always be out and about. Even if the weather is not cooperating, go somewhere indoors. See a museum. There is always something to do, even if it is just finding a new place to drink your coffee. And don’t sleep late! Get enough sleep to rejuvenate for the day ahead and then get out of bed. You have few precious hours in your new city and you don’t want to waste any of them on a lazy morning. You will regret it if you spend extra time in bed. Make a vow to get up one hour earlier than you usually would and go explore. Another tip: most cities usually have a completely different feeling before everyone else wakes up for their day. Make sure you experience this.
Consider Getting a Guide
You will probably be able to guide yourself around the city, but a guide will provide help like the locals would. Tour guides know their cities better than most and can give excellent tips on where to see and visit. Check out local food tours and walking tours of the city that explore a different neighborhood than you’re used to. Check out tours that travel to other cities outside of your own so that you can see more of the country you’re staying in. While you will want to see the most of your own city, taking a day trip or two will let you learn more about the country.
Get Your Education- Outside the Classroom
Sure, it’s called “study” abroad, but so much of the education you will receive will be found outside of the classroom. You’ll learn more from the people you meet and the places you see than any lecture hall could teach you. Obviously you’ll want to pass your courses, but make sure that you also live your experience to its best potential. Travel, and your city, are your education while abroad. Go out! Sightsee! Explore! Put those things before studying (but do make sure you pass)!
It’s inevitable that you’re not going to want to return to the states when you’ve finished studying abroad. You’ll probably fall in love with your city and want to make return trips, but make sure that you have made the most of your short-term study abroad term before getting on that plane home the first time! Live like a local would, explore, and don’t waste time. Savor every moment, because regardless of how much you fit into your time abroad, it will definitely feel like it’s over too soon.
What do you plan on doing to make sure you get the most out of your short-term study abroad experience? Let us know in the comments.