I have never met anyone that studied abroad and regretted the decision. However, during some of the best days of your life, there are some things that you will miss out on, and things that you’ll do and regret later. I’m here to tell you exactly what I regret, and what I would have done differently.
1: SPEND MORE TIME WITH YOUR HOST FAMILY: I can’t stress this enough. I was blessed with the most INCREDIBLE host mom that was so beyond loving and accommodating to my vegetarian dietary restrictions. With my rudimentary understanding of the Spanish language, I was intimidated to have lengthy conversations with my host mom. Though we used Google Translate A LOT, I cherish every memory I have with her, and I wish I would have spent more time with her.
(The best host mom in the entire world. Granada, Spain 2017)
2: Do Your Research: STUDY! We live in a global era of communication. There is no excuse not to research every detail of the city in which you’ll be studying. However, I do understand that it can be daunting and downright time consuming. I wish that I would have studied my Spanish history more as well as taken my Spanish language courses more seriously. I felt underprepared and I hadn’t planned a single trip by the time I landed in Madrid. If there is any advice I can offer, it is PLEASE do everything in your power to plan ahead and learn about your new home. While I did not have as much free time when I studied in South Africa, I still wish I would have looked into fun things to do in Cape Town in my free time. Day trips and weekend trips within Europe are easy and inexpensive.
(Awesome day trip from Granada to Nerja 2017. Day trips are easy and inexpensive!)
3: Document Everything: On my first study abroad in South Africa, I kept a journal every single day and the benefit was absolutely priceless. Keeping a journal helped me record little details that quickly fade from mind such as the names of tour guides and professors. In Spain, I meant to update my blog more, but it just didn’t happen and I deeply regret it. By the same token, I also deeply regret not taking more photos and video. Sure, when living in a foreign country, no one wants to look like a, “tourist”, but I’m sorry, you are. SO take as many pictures as you can, the memories far outweigh the brief embarrassment. Ask people to take individual shots as well because, chances are, you wont talk to a majority of the people you studied with once you’re state side again. Sure, you’ll make a few really close friends, but it’s always nice to have some individual shots to commemorate your greatest adventure.
(Luckily, I had a great friend take photos of me on one of our last days in Granada)
4: TRAVEL!!: Okay, this might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s true. I regret not spending some extra time traveling Africa after my first study abroad. I also regret not visiting Morocco during my time in Spain. I had originally planned to visit Morocco while in Granada, but after no one else expressed interest in going, I let that dream die. TAKE THE DANG TRIP Y’ALL. Even if you travel alone, you will make friends through your hostel or tours. I studied in Spain, and did not once set foot in Barcelona. How does that even happen? I was allowed four absences from class at Universidad De Granada, and I used all but one to sleep in… Plan ahead. Travel. Meet new people.
(I can’t believe I didn’t explore the rest of this beautiful continent. Cape Town 2016)
5: Branch out: This was much easier for me while studying in South Africa, as there was only one other student traveling with me, and I was forced to make new friends. This was probably the best part of my first study abroad experience and I still talk to my friends from South Africa regularly. However, in Spain I stayed with my school group too much because I could speak English, and I knew that they more or less had no choice but to hang out with me. While I loved the people I was with, I wish I would have made more friends outside of our group like I did in South Africa. So put yourself out there! You absolutely won’t regret it.
(Squad goals from all over the globe. Atlantic Point Backpackers, Cape Town 2016)
6: Don’t Settle: In Spain especially, I settled for doing some activities I just didn’t want to do, and I missed out on things that really peaked my interest. It’s okay to say no, and it’s okay to go off on your own and chase your own interests. One of my favorite memories from Granada is of a morning where I just wandered the Albycin solo and learned so much about the city. It’s okay to fly solo. You just might find yourself along the way.
(Weaving through the streets of Granada by myself was just what my soul needed)
While I do have regrets from my travels, studying abroad is not one of them. In fact, I have a tattoo on my foot to commemorate the incredible experience that I had in South Africa. If there is any advice that I can give students wishing to study abroad, it is simply, DO IT. You will find yourself and gain a whole new level of confidence along the way. As someone who has constantly struggled with anxiety, depression, and self-love, I can tell you that study abroad will bring you to a fuller version of yourself.
(My tattoo of Table Mountain South Africa in the Sierra Nevadas of Spain)