If you don’t want to hear a rambling soliloquy of stories that have nothing to do with you, don’t ask me about Australia. Not only will I blabber about about it for hours on end to anyone that asks (or doesn’t), I will try to strike up a conversation with any stranger in my near vicinity who has a whiff of an Australian accent. But in my defense, I just really, really loved my study abroad experience. I made friends for life, did things I thought I would never do (um, hi skydiving) and truly had some of the most epic nights I can (barely) remember. So in case I was too subtle, I recommend studying abroad. But a great experience doesn’t just start and end with a passport. Here are some things you need to do to have that “Crap, I really wish I got a green card” experience:
1. Make friends with locals. This may seem like a given, but you’d be surprised how many people I know who didn’t. It’s surprisingly easy and less awkward to stay your the circle of friends you came over with. Even if you’re living with, drinking with, and taking classes with all your friends — actively try to meet new people by joining a club or studying with that cute Italian guy from class. I was lucky enough to get Australian housing, so I was surrounded by Aussies 24/7, which I wouldn’t trade for anything.
2. Travel around. You are living in another part of the world for five months — use your weekends to explore different cities in the country, or around the continent. And even though you might be tempted to visit Paris instead of Normandy, just think that you’ll probably get to Paris again at some point. How many other chances will you have to just wander spontaneously and explore obscure cities for half a year?
3. Do something you wouldn’t do at home. Join a sports club, do karaoke, travel by yourself — just go outside your comfort zone! This is your chance to push yourself and do something you’ve been too embarrassed to do at home. I joined my college’s choir and played soccer — two things I was waaayyy too nervy to pursue back home.
4. Pretend to be a local for the night. This one is a bit less epic than the others, but it’s actually so fun to do in a bar. Plus it’s a good litmus test to see how much you’re really learning about your mannerisms/culture. Recommended with lots of alcohol.
5. Hook up with at least one local. Probably already on your list — but hey, it’s an important one!
6. Make friends with Americans outside your college. Most likely you’ll be on a program with kids from other colleges — befriend them! When else are you going to have the chance to meet kids from colleges across the country? I studied abroad three years ago and I still keep in touch with those friends.
7. Ask locals about their culture/thoughts/views. This one sounds kind of pretentious, but studying abroad is really a great opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with locals about their take on current events or even pop culture. You’ll be surprised how different (or similar) their views are from yours.
8. Eat food you normally wouldn’t touch. Vegemite is ewww. But when else was I going to try it?
9. Take a class you normally wouldn’t. I made the mistake of only taking classes in my major and I seriously regretted it. A lot of kids in my program took an outdoors (yes, outdoors) class and loved it. Why I never signed up is still a mystery to me.
10. Drink like the locals. Australians are heavy drinkers. Our first week we drank every night, beginning with a bar crawl starting at 9 a.m. and ending with a drunken, costumed blow-out (with drinks provided by the college). At first I was kind of terrified, but hey, when in Rome (or Sydney)…
11. Keep a journal. Write down EVERYTHING. You’ll be surprised how much you’ve changed by the end of your semester. Not to mention it will be super fun to read a year, or a decade from now.
[Image of study abroad student courtesy of Shutterstock]