5 Tips for Studying Abroad

Danai Mandebvu headshot
Danai Mandebvu
March 5, 2024
Big Ben at night

When I told my family and friends that I wanted to study abroad in London they were so excited for me and incredibly supportive. They encouraged me while I worriedly set my plans into motion and celebrated with me when those plans came together successfully. Before I left Hope’s college campus in Holland, Michigan, they gave me hugs, well wishes…and ADVICE! It makes me smile to think of all the different kinds of advice the people around me gave me including tips based on past experience, ideas they had come across from passing travelers and anything else they could think of. I am passing on some of these tips because I believe they could be helpful to anyone thinking of studying abroad. I am also writing these down to put the one tip I have for anyone who chooses to study abroad in context. So, without further ado!

  1. Do , do, do!—live in the moment

Studying abroad anywhere is such a gift. When I received my visa and found out that I was definitely going to be studying abroad in London, I could not contain myself. I was so full of joy and excitement and those feelings didn’t dwindle when I finally arrived. If anything they grew and matured but there was this new found feeling in the mix too—the sad realization that this experience would one day end. When I began to feel this sombre feeling in my chest I felt this urgent need to squeeze out every drop of goodness I could from my time in London while I could. To do that, I reached for a piece of advice my mom gave me over the phone. It went something like: DO, DO, DO! She gave me the advice that she’d always given me in every stage of my life—to make the most out of the opportunity. I took that to mean I should do as much as I could possibly do and fill my time with plans and experiences. What could go wrong?

  1. Rest—pace yourself

Needless to say, my interpretation may have been off on that last one. After trying to do as much as possible and focusing on taking in experience after experience, I got tired. I tried to push through and give myself the minimal amount of rest I could manage so I could get back on the proverbial horse and do but I could not shake the tiredness. So, I reached for another piece of advice from a friend who had recently travelled abroad herself. Her advice went something like: it’s okay to take a time out if you need some rest. This may seem obvious but there is a fear that has arisen in moments of rest for me—a fear that I am missing out on something more exciting. In London, the reality is I am missing out on something exciting all the time. Even if I’ve gone to an amazing theatre show or am taking a walk along the River Thames, there are more than a hundred things I could be doing. The trick for me has been accepting, respecting and trusting my choices, especially when it comes to rest.

  1. Reflect—journal

During orientation sessions, a big piece of advice advisors gave was to journal or find time to reflect. I definitely didn’t realize how difficult that was going to be at first. The thing about constantly experiencing new and interesting things in a new and interesting place with new and interesting people is that you get carried away with…new and interesting experiences. I have reflection filed away in my mind as something to do after an experience, which can be a problem if an experience goes on and on for months on end. I think to reflect sometimes but often I’m too busy living. However, I am opening my mind to a compromise where reflection may not necessarily mean journaling. Perhaps it means, conversation at the end of long and fun nights or walking with just my thoughts as company. 

  1. Plan—then let it go

I do not like planning. The people close to me know this. At first, planning did not come up as something I would have to focus too much of my energy on while abroad. I figured I would live in the moment as much as possible and take the opportunities presented to me. However, I have quickly learnt that in a city with so much to do and see as well as limited time to do so I have to plan. If I want to take a day trip to Cambridge or fly to the Isle of Man, I have to take the time out to plan it out and create an itinerary and make sure I have my transport figured out before I head to the station—especially if I’m traveling alone. This was confirmed when I revealed this revelation to my sister. However, sometimes life does not go according to plan and I have to be flexible so those disruptions do not steal my joy. I have been attempting to find a happy middle ground of making plans and being prepared to adjust them. This is more difficult than it sounds and it takes work and faith but it is worth it and it has saved me money.

  1. Do it your way!

Now, finally for my tip for you! My tip goes back to trusting your choices. All of the tips above are great and useful but it can be hard to know when to employ each one. When is it time to DOrestreflect or plan? No one knows but you! No one in the world knows you like you do and if there is anyone that can make an educated guess about what you might need and when, it’s you. There is no one-size-fits all answer to how to study abroad. There is only your experience and your experience will be as good as it is challenging. You cannot avoid the challenging parts and if you try to you may miss out on some of the good. So embrace it all and don’t shy away from making a choice about what you need or want at that moment. At best, it will be an amazing experience and at least, it will teach you something about yourself. Either way, your study abroad experience is doing what it’s supposed to. This is a lesson I am learning even as I sit in this cosy little cafe in Neal’s Yard writing this for you but I hope everyday I get better and better at doing this all my way.

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Danai Mandebvu headshot

Danai Mandebvu

The big words that are important pieces of my identity are family, creativity, and community. They describe the confidence I have in my roots, joy I find in the tribes I now belong to and my passion for storytelling as an actor, writer, and director.

2024 Spring
Home University:
Hope College
International Relations
Theatre Arts
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