Usually, when someone begins the process of looking into studying abroad and researching all of the different programs and countries, one of the first thoughts that come to mind is, “well, I’m not sure I feel comfortable traveling to and living in a foreign country alone.” That’s actually completely normal and makes a lot of sense considering that the unknown can be very frightening.
If you talk to anyone who has studied abroad alone, they will tell you that it was one of the best experiences of their lives because they were able to meet new people, make new friends, and form lifelong connections from all over the globe. I encourage you to go alone, to test your limits and learn about who you are while exploring a whole new world full of independence and adventures.
However, if you feel more comfortable knowing that you have a familiar face by your side, or if you and your best friend have been planning to go abroad together since you were kids, then by all means, do it! I studied abroad with AIFS during the summer of 2013 with my two very best friends, and it’s been the greatest experience we’ve had together. Nevertheless, there are still some dos and don’ts that I recommend in order to get the most out of your time abroad.
DO: Embrace the touristy and cliché together
Let’s be honest here, we all see the artsy pictures on Pinterest of a pair of friends candidly laughing next to the Eiffel Tower or pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Ask someone to take your picture and don’t be afraid to look silly because I promise you that memory will be worth it. Take a million photos. Sightsee. Try new foods. And do it all together! You’ll gain so many great new inside jokes and stories that will only strengthen your friendship! Did my best friends and I all hang outside of a classic London photo booth and make telephone shapes with our fingers? You bet we did!
DON’T: Miss out on what you want to do
A great aspect of studying abroad is that you’re inevitably going to meet other Americans on your trip, as well as the locals where you’re living. If there is something that you’ve been dying to do, but the friend(s) you came with aren’t interested, do not sacrifice it. Make a new friend who shares that interest and go together! In fact, it’s sometimes easy to miss out on meeting new people if you’re constantly in your tight-knit circle, so I encourage you to make plans with different people, and encourage the friends you came with to do the same. It’s okay to leave the group and explore new things. Make a list before you leave of the things that you don’t want to miss out on, and hold yourself to that. One of my best friends went on the Harry Potter Studio Tour with a few of the other girls in our photography class and she’ll tell you that it was one of her favorite things she did in London. Which then leads me to my next point.
DO: Explore on your own
You’re in a foreign country, you may not speak the native language, and you aren’t familiar with the area, so obviously use caution and common sense when exploring independently, but don’t miss the chance to do so. Sometimes it’s nice to be alone with your own thoughts instead of constantly doing things with the same people. I attended the Aston Martin Centennial Celebration car show in Kensington Gardens alone and had so much fun. No one was interested in going with me, but I knew I didn’t want to pass it up, so I went anyway. You’re a college student, you’re young, and you’re figuring your life out. Why not do it in a beautiful foreign land? Grab some coffee, take a stroll, find a bench with a nice view, and journal your thoughts. You’ll be amazed at how you see things differently in solidarity.
DON’T: Let your friends define your experience
Ultimately, this is a once in a lifetime experience and something that is so much more meaningful than the fact that you’re traveling with your besties. Don’t forget to really take in your surroundings and the culture. Define your time there independently from the way that your friends define it. Challenge yourself to discover new things and to change your outlook on the world. Your friends are going back with you to the States, but your time abroad is limited, so don’t leave with regrets.
Today is August 12th, 2014. It is a rainy, gloomy, and somber afternoon. You won't be reading this until next week, and by that time, your life will have been changed forever. You see, 10 days ago, on August 2nd, your boyfriend called me and told be about his intent to make you his wife. He has a ring, a plan, and permission from your parents. He loves you so much, he wants to be with you forever. How amazing is that?
P.S. The ring is gorgeous! Who knew that Brandon had such good fashion taste?
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