You only get a few months abroad - make the most of them!

By Annie Rose Stathes, edited by Valeri Boyle
Published November 4, 2013

Participating in a summer study abroad program is a great way to see the world without missing a semester of school at home. The following article offers some tips for making the most of your summer study abroad experience.

Get involved as quickly as possible! Upon your arrival in a new country, you might be tempted to sleep in, stay inside, or take your time getting to know your community. While it is important to listen to your needs, it’s also important to get outside and get moving! Summer study abroad programs are relatively short and can easily fly by. Take advantage of your time abroad by getting involved as quickly as possible!

At the same time, be patient with yourself. Summer abroad programs can be difficult and challenging as students are often times forced to adjust to new environments quickly. As you’re facing such challenges, be patient with yourself. If you need one or two days to sleep in, do so. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and need to take an afternoon or day to yourself, do so. If you’re freaking out and want to go home, don’t worry; acknowledge yourself for stepping into such a challenging circumstance and trust that in time things will be easier.

Keep a written and photo journal. Again, your time abroad can fly by! Keep track of everything that happens with a written and photo journal. Capture your favorite foods, places, people, and moments so that you can share your adventures with your friends and family back home. Also, consider sharing your experiences (via story and images) in more formal settings on campus and in your home community.

Tie your program to your studies. Plan your summer study abroad program to coincide with your classes. If you’re studying economics, for example, find a study abroad location with an interesting economic dynamic; or if you’re studying history, for example, pick a location whose history you’ve recently studied or will study. Tying your studies to your study abroad summer can make what you’re learning at home and abroad more interesting and significant. 

Leave your worries behind. Do whatever you can to leave “home” at home. Pay the bills you need to pay; register for your fall courses; set up a job for when you return home; do your best to complete tasks so that you can devote your mind and energy to your summer abroad. Also, while you’re studying abroad, give yourself a chance to meet new people and engage in a new community by limiting the time you spend on email, Facebook, and the phone. Let yourself be present in your new community.

Use a summer study abroad program to work through challenging times. If you’ve had a stinky semester or school year, consider brushing it off by spending some time abroad. Sometimes we need a change in scenery or to remember that the world is larger than our problems. If you spend the summer abroad to work through challenging times, select a location and program that will be soothing, inspiring, eye-opening, and/or motivating.

Ask for academic credit. Talk to your core and major advisors to determine whether or not you can earn credit for your summer study abroad program. You might as well earn credit while you’re having a great time!

Invite your summer abroad host family to visit you over fall or summer break. You’ll likely be sad to say goodbye at the end of just one short summer. Keep your newfound relationships alive by inviting your new family and friends for a visit!

Do more than one in your lifetime. Spend your summer abroad more than once! If you can, do so every summer. Spending time in another country (as you know or will soon discover) allows for amazing discoveries, experiences, and growth. If you’re able, why not give yourself the gift of participating in summer study abroad programs between each school year? Your mind, your soul, and your life will thank you!

Annie Rose Stathes is a Colorado-based writer, teacher and political scientist. Her background is in international affairs and she holds a Master of Arts degree in Political Science.