Why You Should Actually "Study" When You Study Abroad

In honor of just finishing up finals here in Barcelona (yes I know I'm leaving in a week, no you shouldn't bring it up), I wanted to do a little bit of a reflection post about why actually studying and learning while you're abroad are so important. 

The thing to understand if you decide to come abroad is to not expect to just be partying and living it up the entire time. Sure, it might be "the best semester of your life," but partying and going to the club every night are not the reason why.

The other thing to understand is that when I say "studying" and "learning," when you're abroad this doesn't just take place in the traditional classroom setting. Some of it does, but most of it actually happens on your own.

You control how much you learn and experience the world around you, which is something I want to convey in this post. So, without further ado, here's ten reasons why you should actually "study" when you study abroad.


1. You might actually learn a new language

If Ben Stiller can do it, so can you!

If Ben Stiller can do it, so can you!

Nothing can quite compare to studying a foreign language in a foreign country that actually speaks that language. You can take as many Spanish classes in college as you want, but unless you go out and actually practice the language every day, you'll never fully understand it or be fluent in it.

When you study abroad (in a foreign language-speaking country), you have the opportunity to go out and practice a new language every day for a semester or longer. You also have the opportunity to take classes in that language. Even if you're in the lowest level speaking course, chances are that most of the class will be taught in that language. You can't get that kind of immersion anywhere else, so take advantage of it. 


2. You'll learn about the country you're staying in

Photo courtesy of viajerosmadeinspain.com.

Photo courtesy of viajerosmadeinspain.com.

News flash, you're living in a foreign country for at least a few months. That country is different from your home country in about a trillion ways. A lot of the classes offered on study abroad programs are art, history, architecture or other subjects relating to that country. 

Why wouldn't you want to take advantage of learning about the country you're living in? Seems like a no brainer to me. Even if you don't like some of those subjects traditionally, give them a shot. You might find that you actually like them because of the way the class is taught (which is often the case in foreign countries) or because you get to see the subject up close every day when you walk around your city and can see what you're learning all around you.

Making those connections from what you learn in the classroom to the world around you is the best way to take more than a new drinking game away from your study abroad experience.



Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

Might be a wake-up call to some people, but depending on the program you're on while you're abroad, those classes that you didn't ever go to might actually count toward your GPA back home. Pretty simple if you ask me. 

If you don't go to class, don't do any of your work and generally have an attitude of "I don't care, f– it," you might find that your GPA has taken a major hit when you get back. The bigger problem with that is that there's no one else you can blame beside yourself. So, suck it up, go to class regularly and you'll do just fine.

4. You'll meet new people

Yeah, two Will Ferrell gifs back to back. So what? He's a funny dude. Gif courtesy of edgaralanfrog.tumblr.com.

Yeah, two Will Ferrell gifs back to back. So what? He's a funny dude. Gif courtesy of edgaralanfrog.tumblr.com.

One of the best parts about going abroad is that you're constantly meeting new people, almost every single day. They could be other people on your program, from your own school or different people from all over the world and that's pretty cool. You aren't going to meet all of those new people if you're holed in your apartment all day or hanging out/going out with the same people all the time. 

In actuality, a great place to meet a bunch of new people is in your classes. Hard to believe, I know, but if you go to class and make an effort to talk to different people each time, you'll end up making a bunch of new friends. 


5. traveling is learning, too

Photo courtesy of uproxx.com

Photo courtesy of uproxx.com

It might not be the most traditional way to learn, but trust me that when you're taking one of your weekend trips somewhere, you're immersing yourself into a whole other culture. Even if you don't experience every museum or cultural activity a city or country has to offer, you still pick up on cultural cues and differences without even realizing it.

Then, your brain does this amazing thing where it actually compares and contrasts those cultural differences and cues with other ones you've experienced in your travels and with the ones from your home country. So, even if you decide to blow off a class to catch a flight you booked (sometimes while sitting in that same class), you're actually still studying another culture and constantly learning.


Gif courtesy of pinterest.com.

Gif courtesy of pinterest.com.

Believe it or not, a ton of employers place great value on potential employees who have studied abroad and actually have something to show for it. It's one thing to put on your resume that you studied abroad in Spain for four months, but it's another thing entirely to be able to articulate and explain your experience.

It gives you more anecdotes for interviews. You can explain how living in a foreign country actually helped you learn independence, how to overcome various obstacles, how to break out of your shell and how all the things you learned make you the best candidate for the job. 

If you can relate your experiences abroad to prospective employers in an effective way, they'll think really highly of you and your application.


7. you'll be more organized

Ok, maybe not. Gif courtesy of Reddit.

Ok, maybe not. Gif courtesy of Reddit.

Even if you think classes aren't as difficult when you're studying abroad*, you're actually juggling a bunch of different things at once. You have to go to class and make sure you keep up with your work, but you also want to hang out with friends, explore your host city and country and travel as much as you can. It's a demanding schedule that really requires you to budget your time effectively.  

Also, all that traveling helps you to figure out important life skills along the way such as how to actually pack for a weekend away without your mom's help and how to budget your time when you're taking a trip somewhere and want to see all the sights but only have a certain amount of time.

Again, not learning that occurs in the classroom, but still important.

*Important side note: This is absolutely not the case. If you're studying abroad just to take easy classes, you're going to find yourself out of luck. Just like any other school, there are some classes that are easier than others, but there are still plenty of challenging classes that you might find yourself in.


8. you'll understand the value of time

No time for BS here. Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

No time for BS here. Gif courtesy of giphy.com.

Going along with the organization and time management I just talked about (see number five right above if you already forgot), studying abroad helps you make the most of the time you have. A lot of classes abroad have hours that you may not be used to. For example, I had classes twice a week at the ungodly hour of 9am. I also had a four-hour Spanish class twice a week.

These might not be things that you're used to at your home college or university, but they do exist abroad. But, you learn to live with them. You actually might come to find that you like getting your day started earlier because it helps you be more productive the rest of the day. Or you might learn not to drink as much the night before you have a four-hour Spanish class. Things I couldn't seem to get a hang of, but you might!

As I touched on in the organization point also, you'll learn how to plan trips. So, you've only got 72 hours in Rome? No problem. Besides reading my weekend guide to Rome, you'll learn to plan the trip hour-by-hour just so you can see everything. That's an important skill to have that you can only learn if you travel a lot when you go abroad.


9. you'll understand the value of a dollar, euro or whatever

Gif courtesy of inc42.com.

Gif courtesy of inc42.com.

One thing that becomes extremely apparent very early when you're studying abroad is that you're spending a butt-ton of money. If you haven't learned to budget your money in college, you sure as hell better learn when you study abroad.

Studying abroad also gives you familiarity with the values of other currencies and their relations to each other. You'll find yourself looking at exchange rates and analyzing economies more than you usually do just because you want to know the best time to go to the ATM so that you have enough money to eat, travel, shop, buy alcohol and go out at night.

Of course it helps when your parents are helping to finance your study abroad experience, but you should still work out a system with them, beginning before you go. You should talk about and agree on a weekly/monthly budget and you should do your best to stick to that budget. If you do, minus a splurge here and there, you'll be fine.

Again though, this is an experience that occurs outside of the classroom and often without you even realizing it's happening. However, it ends up being another extremely important life skill that you can learn really easily by studying abroad and paying attention.

And, most importantly...

10. you'll learn about yourself

And he's 3/3 on the Will Ferrell gifs. Nailed it. Gif courtesy of confessions-of-a-barbie.tumblr.com. (Also, no, I did not actually visit that tumblr page.)

And he's 3/3 on the Will Ferrell gifs. Nailed it. Gif courtesy of confessions-of-a-barbie.tumblr.com. (Also, no, I did not actually visit that tumblr page.)

That's right, time to get #deep. When you study abroad, you're placing yourself into a situation that you've most likely never found yourself in before. You're living in a foreign country, you might not know anyone, there could be a language barrier and there will be a bunch of problems and obstacles along the way that you never thought you would have to face.

It forces you to do a lot of growing up and finding yourself in a very short period of time. By the end though, you'll emerge a completely different person than when you started. Not in a bad way, you're just more mature because you've faced all of these new challenges. Sure, they might have seemed scary or daunting at the time, but now little things like doing your own laundry don't even phase you. 

I guarantee you will end up meeting some incredible people along the way and some of those people are right by your side, experiencing all these new things with you. That means you'll almost never have to face things alone.

You'll look back on your study abroad experience as some of the best times of your life, and that's because you took the time to study, learn and to get to know yourself and the amazing world in which we get to live each and every day. 



Holy Shit Your Parents are Coming to Visit You Abroad

Alright, calm down everyone. Everything is going to be fine. I'm taking a break from my weekend guides (Paddy's in Dublin and a weekend in Amsterdam to come, so look out) to help prep you all for something extremely important.

You've been "studying" abroad for like three months now, right? I put studying in quotes because come on, who are you kidding? But, you've had one important weekend or, in some cases, week circled on your calendar for a while now.

And that's not because you circled it yourself, but actually because your mom bought you a calendar, circled the date she's coming to visit you and then packed you said calendar before you left to go abroad.

Anyway, you've had that date circled and now that calendar is who knows where in your room. You've been living it up, not really paying too much attention as the dates roll by. Then, one day, you decide to clean your desk in your room/move some stuff around as you search for enough euro coins to buy yourself a meal. That's when you find that calendar. And, surprise surprise, your parents are coming this weekend.

Now, it's not that you don't love your parents and siblings or that you don't miss them. It's just that for the past three months, your brain has mostly been focused on food, alcohol and not being too hungover to catch your next flight.

But as I said, not to worry because your pal Max is here to set you straight. In honor of my family coming to visit me in Barcelona for my Spring Break (starting this weekend), here's five things you can do to prepare for your parents/family coming to visit you abroad.

1. Clean your damn room/apartment

We all know you've been living in absolute filth, but there's no reason your parents need to know that. And, while you might be able to wiggle your way out of it, the odds that your parents end up having to come to your place at some point during their visit are extremely high. 

So, pop on some tunes and get to that large load of laundry that's been piling up and slowly taking over your room one inch at a time. Also, it's time to throw out your alcohol bottle collection. You and your apartment-mates might think it looks cool, but your parents will probably be less impressed. Also, it's really not that cool. Hate to break it to you.

Focus on big areas like cleaning off your desk, making sure the floor is relatively clean and making your bed. It doesn't have to be perfect or spotless, but a little effort goes a long way. After your room is clean, head over to the kitchen where it's finally time to start tackling that stack of dirty dishes. Enlist the help of your apartment-mates for this one because there's no way all those dishes are yours, right? Ok, maybe they are. Moving on.


2. call the shots

Your family is coming to visit you halfway around the world (or all the way you crazy Aussie study abroad kids). They want to see the city as you see it, you have been living there for the past three months, so hopefully you've got a whole list of stuff to show them.

Take them to the touristy stuff, but also show them around your neighborhood and take them to some cool local spots that you like to go to. This will give them a better flavor of your study abroad experience. Trust me, they'll appreciate it.

Don't make your family do all the research, help them out by taking on some of or all of the planning. Remember, they're new in town and you've been around the block a few times. You're the expert and they're going to turn to you for recommendations, so be prepared.

Also, don't freak out about making everything perfect. While it is a vacation for your loved ones, they're still here primarily to see you, don't lose sight of that. They'll be happy pretty much anywhere you take them.

Going along with this...


3. pick the food

This gets its own section because it's (obviously) my personal favorite part. The simple fact is that while you've been dining in style while you've been abroad, the likelihood that you've eaten anywhere really nice or expensive is pretty low. This is your shot to live it up! You're a poor study abroad student and your parents have the moolah.

It's your chance to take them to that nice restaurant you've wanted to go to this whole time. It's also your chance to show them the local cuisine in your host country/city. They want to eat something different. While some of your favorite joints might serve burgers or pizza or other cheap eats, your family doesn't want to eat something they can get anywhere.

Take them somewhere unique where you can enjoy a nice, authentic meal together. Also, don't forget that nice restaurants take reservations, so if there's some place really special you want to take your family, make sure you call or book online in advance.

And while I made a joke earlier about your parents having all the money, I know this isn't the case for everyone. There are still plenty of nice places you can take your family without breaking the bank, you just have to do your research and find somewhere that works with your family's budget.

My advice: In Barcelona, take your parents to Tickets, widely regarded as one of, if not the best tapas restaurant in Barcelona. Unfortunately I don't think I will have the chance to dine here because they are closed for the Easter holiday when my family is here, but that doesn't mean I can't live vicariously through you. Book at least a month in advance for this restaurant on their website.


4. shower them with gifts

Yes, I know I put two Spongebob references back to back. Yeah, I've got a problem and you don't?

Yes, I know I put two Spongebob references back to back. Yeah, I've got a problem and you don't?

You're a sophisticated (haha) world traveler now, so hopefully you've found the opportunity to stop and buy some gifts for your family along the way. Most likely your parents are funding or at least partially funding your adventure abroad, so it's nice to return the favor by showing them you care. Even if you bought that special something with their money. But that's beside the point.

5. enjoy your time with them

Sure, your family can annoy you sometimes, but that's part of the deal. You still love them and they still love you. They made the trip to come see you, and that isn't the case for everyone who studies abroad. So that's pretty special.

They might get on your nerves, but even though we might not always admit it, we still miss them from time to time.

Damn, this post got sentimental as hell.

I'll try Snape, I'll try.

I'll try Snape, I'll try.