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University of Missouri

How to succeed during your study abroad program

Filed in Blog, Peru by on July 25, 2019
by Rachael M.

In my time at Mizzou, I have been fortunate enough to study abroad twice – three weeks in the Netherlands and one month in Perú. While both trips were vastly different, these are some general tips for how to succeed in your study abroad program.

1. Make a budget and (actually) stick to it.

For my first study abroad, I did zero budgeting and, unsurprisingly, I spent way too much money (buying $3 stroopwafel may not seem like much, but when you do it every day it adds up). When I went to Perú, I planned for everything. I gave myself a set amount for nights out, snacks and groceries, weekend trips, taxi rides and airport food during travel. I even planned how much money I would spend on souvenirs for each person, so the vendors could not talk me into buying my mom a third hat. While making the budget is relatively simple (Excel or Google Sheets are the best options), following through is difficult, and there will be times when you are tempted to buy a giant llama even though you do not have room in your suitcase. However, it is a lot less stressful coming back to the United States if your finances are in order.

2. Research your country/countries

While your program director will give you a lot of valuable information about the places you visit, it does help to do a little bit of homework before you go. Going from the United States to a completely different culture can be jarring, but doing research before you go can make the transition easier. Knowing a country’s history, political environment and current issues helps you understand better and go in with a more open mind. You could try researching major political parties, what sports are popular, major holidays and celebrations, what the major religions are, and the biggest historical events that shaped the country.

3. Make tentative plans plans for free time

On both of my trips, our itineraries would have blocks of time that were unscheduled free time. The best thing to do is research and make a list of activities that you would want to do during that time. Making concrete plans is not a good idea, because the schedule may change, or other people may want to do something else fun. But knowing where you want to go means wasting less time looking up ideas during your study abroad and more time having fun.

4. Go off the beaten path

When finding the activities you want to do, avoid tourist traps. The best way to do this is to talk to your program leader, who will know what activities students have done in the past and enjoyed and what is not worth it. Asking past students or locals is also a great resource or finding travel blogs and review websites. In my experience, my favorite trips were to the places that were not saturated with tourists.

5. Learn (some of) the language

While no one is expecting you to be fluent in a new language before you study abroad, learning a few key phrases will only help you. Even if your program is not language based, it is important to understand what languages are spoken in your country and how prominent English is. When I went to the Netherlands, 90 percent of the country spoke English, so getting around was not a problem. In Perú, there is no official data on how many people speak English, and knowing Spanish was vital. Phrases like “How much is…”, “Do you speak English?” and “Where is…” can save you in a pinch, and getting a travel dictionary can also be worthwhile investment.

6. Try everything

While this may seem like an obvious piece of advice, it may be the hardest to follow. Sometimes you’ll want to stay safe and eat a hamburger instead of trying the local menu, or go back to the hotel and watch Netflix instead of going to a museum with everyone else in free time. While knowing your limits is important, the moments where you play it safe are the ones you will most regret when you come back home. Trying the food that sounds like nothing you would ever eat may turn out to be your new favorite dish (Hello Dutch fries topped with peanut sauce and onions), and the memories made when trying new things are an important part of the study abroad experience and the ones you will retell the most when you come back home.

7. Don’t do it for the ‘gram

Finally, the biggest piece of advice I can give is probably the most well-worn – enjoy the moments. I often found myself taking pictures of the scenery, the buildings and myself, trying to come up with a witty Instagram caption while I did. When looking back, most of the picture weren’t good, and I had no memories outside of trying to get those perfect photos. I re-framed my photo taking as taking one or two photos to help me remember, and then putting away my phone and allowing myself to just look around and take everything in.


About the blogger

Rachael M. is studying abroad on the Spanish Language and Andean Society program in Cusco and Lima, Peru.

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