Though it sometimes may be easy to forget while swept up in your travels, friendships, and new experiences, study abroad is at its core an academic experience. Some students may view this as possibly the least exciting part of study abroad, since it is what’s most familiar to them. There isn’t anything too different or exciting about the actual going to class part of study abroad, right?
Nope! The truth is, even with so much to experience in the streets of your exciting new city, there is still so much to learn in the classroom. If you choose your classes right, school can feel like yet another exciting opportunity to dive into the culture of your host city and country, instead of just that thing you happen to do between weekend adventures.
Here are some tips to make the most out of your study abroad academic experience:
1. Choose relevant classes
Picking classes relevant to your host city or country can make a world of a difference. Besides being taught in all Spanish, I’ve chosen classes this semester that each give me insight into different aspects of Spanish and Granadino culture. For reference, I’m taking: Flamenco History and Dance, Spain and the European Union, Contemporary Spanish Theater, Spanish Grammar, and also completing an internship with a local travel agency. What better place to learn flamenco than its birthplace in Andalucía? How else would I find contemporary theater shows to go to? When else will I have the chance to intern for a Spanish travel agency?
Your classes are a great opportunity to help you understand more about where you are, so make your best effort to choose the ones that feel more like exciting cultural immersion than just another hour at a desk.
2. Explore new study spots
Homework does still exist abroad. However, instead of letting it be a burden, you can look at it as a great opportunity to find new study spots. I love wandering with my laptop and books and stumbling upon a new park or plaza. You get to see a new part of the city while also checking something off your to-do list. For times when you need wifi, use the semester to find your favorite café or library. Each city and each café has its own coffee culture, so it can be fun to find a place that works for you while getting to know the staff and other frequent customers.
3. Get to know your professors
Just like at your home universities, your professors are a great resource beyond the classroom. Not only can they help you learn academically, but they are also a great source of insight on cultural situations and questions you might have. During your study abroad experience your professors are there to help you grow in the classroom, but are also aware that you are making an effort to experience things outside of school as well. Getting to know your professors will make going to class more enjoyable and help you to adjust easier and feel more at home. They might even help you out with restaurant or cafeteria recommendations!
4. Balance your workload
Many of the best parts of study abroad are spontaneous, meaning you'll want to manage your time so that you can enjoy last-minute plans and adventures. This is simply impossible if you don’t make a bit of an effort to balance your workload to the best of your ability. While it may seem bothersome to walk to the library after lunch and put in a solid hour of work, you will most definitely thank yourself when you’re suddenly available to go out for unplanned tapas with your friends after class.
You’ll also want to keep this in mind when traveling. You don’t want to leave all your work until the last minute when you return, but you also don’t want to drive yourself mad trying to finish everything just hours before your departure flight. Look to create a regular work schedule for yourself to keep school work in your routine while still being able to enjoy the spontaneous and adventurous side of study abroad.
Academics are a really important part of your experience abroad and can make your time in a different country even more fulfilling. If you plan ahead and have a positive outlook, you’ll enjoy and get the most out of your classes as you can.