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Jumping In: Making the Most of Your Time Abroad

Studying abroad is one of the best decisions you will ever make. It will change your life and make you a more well-rounded person. In order to get the most out of your experience there are some key things you should do: learn to laugh at yourself, go all out, and try everything.
 Walking around downtown San Jose, the city I learned to navigate really well. On this day there were some locals playing music.

Learn to Laugh at Yourself

The first thing you must accept when you go abroad is that you will, in fact, make mistakes. It’s inevitable. Sometimes, though, when you look back on these mistakes they can make you laugh. When I was abroad, with my beginner level Spanish, I would try and talk with my host mom and end up creating some funky sentences, but it always cracks me up when I think about where I started. I even screwed up directions and went in circles with my cab driver. When you first arrive and everything is unfamiliar, it’s bound to happen. Now I’m much more confident in my Spanish and I definitely know my way around San Jose. Once you get out of your head and learn that mistakes can only help you grow, you’ll be able to learn so much.

Go All Out

While you’re abroad, forget about home! Now I know that might sound bad, but I promise it’s not! You only have a limited time in the county you study in so take the time to embrace every aspect of the culture. For example, instead of only listening to music from home, take the time to find out what some popular songs and genres are in your area. Also, if the country you’re in has restaurants that you have back home, like McDonald’s, stay away from only eating foods you’re familiar with. I can guarantee you’ll fall in love with most of the new food you’ll encounter and you’ll be wishing you could have it again when you get back home.

 At the farmer's market, most of the vendors focus on all
natural and fresh dishes. I had a chance to try a fresh
fruit and oats bar, which was absolutely delicious! It had
an oat base with peaches, bananas, strawberries,
apples, and a cocoa drizzle on top.

Another great way to grasp a country’s culture is by going to local events. While I was in San Jose, my friends and I went to a neighborhood fair, farmer’s markets, and art fairs. By doing these things, we were able to meet and talk with locals about their way of life and get the inside scoop on things we had to try before we left. The university I attended offered tropical dance class and at first I was hesitant, but I’m so glad I went because the classes were a blast! Become more than just a tourist in your city, become a local.
 Exploring the weekly farmer's market.

Try Everything

Finally, try everything. It sounds simple, but when you’re some place new, it’s easy to shut yourself off from things you’re not familiar with. As I mentioned above, when you come across food you’ve never had before and it looks weird, try it! Nine times out of ten you’ll be taking your plate back for seconds. And if you didn’t like something, at least you can say you tried it. For me, something that really brought me out of my shell is when I took the tropical dance classes. Don’t get me wrong I love to dance, but doing dances that require intricate footwork and in front of other people was a little frightening to me, but once I got into it I felt really confident in my new skill. Whether it’s speaking the language, taking a hard class, or trying new foods don’t be afraid to try! By trying you’ll only grow as a person and you can’t ask for much more.

 My friends and I traveled to local restaurants one Saturday in search of the best chifrijo, a popular local dish.

When you return home from your journey, don’t come back the same. Come back with new experiences and a new appreciation for the cultures you experienced. By remembering to laugh at yourself, go all out, and try everything while abroad, you’ll be able to make the most of your time abroad!

Kendall M. is a CEA alumni. She studied abroad in San Jose in the Spring of 2016 and is currently a Senior at University of Memphis.

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