The time has finally come; that moment you have been waiting for the entire semester. After obsessively checking your inbox, you finally received the big news that you’ll have the opportunity to escape your university bubble. At last, a chance to break through those dreaded library walls and embark on an intellectual journey far beyond the classroom, quite literally. But in all the excitement (or just general life craziness), planning your summer abroad, properly, can pass you on by. Which is a shame, because you should maximize your time abroad as it really does go by in a blink. Here's how to go about just that in just five easy steps.
1. Establish a game plan
After you celebrate the accomplishment that is getting into your program and course of choice (woohoo!!), it’s time to buckle down and research. It is crucial to have both a professional game plan and, of course, a recreational one too, ahead of time (preferably before you actually get on the plane). Spontaneity has its virtues, but landing in a foreign city and not knowing where to start can stressful, and a big time waster. Hit the ground running right from the very beginning by doing the following.
Get the fundamentals right
Focus on the fundamentals that go along with any kind of travelling. If you're a student on a budget, this especially includes looking up the exchange rate of your destination. Regardless of the strength of your currency, saving up ahead of time will ensure that you're able to tick off your bucket list (yes please). Even though I went to Cape Town where the U.S. Dollar performs well in purchasing power, this very fact caused me to spend in excess as I adopted an “everything is cheap!!” mentality. So no matter the financial affordability of your destination (and they will differ quite drastically), saving spending money is key. If you need to know how much, make sure to check out your city's FAQs section.
If you don’t have a job, try to get a side-hustle going to fund your future adventures, especially if you intend to pursue epic excursions or activities like skydiving, diving, visiting another neighbouring city, or even going on safari. It doesn't have be obvious, or even laborious, but you don't want to break the bank in your first week because of poor planning.
Pack like a pro
Packing will consume your life the weeks leading up to your departure. Your room will become a mountain of clothes as you piece together potential outfits for your future exotic outings. To avoid panic packing and unnecessary luggage, make sure to take into account the weather of your destination and what season it is. Because U.S. summertime was Cape Town’s wintertime, I had to make sure to prioritize warmer pieces and closed-toed shoes. Also, make sure that you have a couple of essential going-out outfits, and some business formal outfit, the first for nights on the town, and the second for presentations you’ll have to deliver at the end of your course, as well as your internship.
Polish up professionally
Take time to meditate over the professional goals you want to accomplish. Polish up that LinkedIn profile (or make one if you haven’t already), refine your resume, build networks within your study abroad program (check out their alumni, and reach out on Facebook), and hone in on that new skill you want to learn – whether that be a new coding language or how to write and upkeep a blog. Self-discipline is going to be crucial during free time outside of class, as you want to keep your mind engaged, and maintain productivity, while balancing out all the fun.
Be prepared ahead of time to document your journey and make this documentation a habit even before your arrival. You can utilize this as a portfolio to show off to potential employers (you could even upload your projects or porti on LinkedIn). Making such a portfolio also demonstrates a commitment and self-determination, which indicates that you have independent working skills – career gold.
Stay focused on your goals
Once you arrive, it can be really easy to lose track of your initial goals (wanderlust and the general awe of being in a foreign place with new friends is a heady concoction). However, it is super important to establish a mindset of putting your career and intellectual growth first. I personally have regrets of not developing even more professionally during my time in Cape Town, and looking back, I realize I could have taken advantage of far more resources and opportunities offered to me were I was not so susceptible to distraction. You don’t want to come back home with regrets, especially having made a massive monetary investment. So making the mental investment of prioritizing growth upfront is the most important way you can fully prepare for your study abroad.
And that's it! A summer studying abroad can be one of the biggest growth experiences of your life, if you let it. So the take the time beforehand to make it count – you won't regret it.