I loved my study abroad experiences. But there are a few things I wish I did differently. Experience is a great teacher even though it can sometimes bring hard lessons. If you’re considering studying abroad first of all, do it! It’s a great way to learn about yourself and the world around you. Second of all, learn from my mistakes. These are the biggest things I wish I known or considered before I studied abroad.
I Didn’t Consider Different Program Options
I was aware of different program option before I chose to go to Costa Rica through my university Foreign Language department’s program. I actually enjoyed reading about programs through organizations like CIEE and IES Abroad. Ultimately, I chose my program because it was the cheaper option and I could complete credits towards my degree. I wish I considered a program through a provider organization though because the structure those programs provided would have suited my needs better. My program didn’t have structured excursions and I would have done better in a program that had them.
I Didn’t Ask to be Involved in Life of My Host Family
During my semester abroad I lived with a host family which in my case was a single woman whose kids were grown. While I liked the woman we often didn’t do things together. I was not the only study abroad student in the house but the other 2 were part of a provider organization program and had organized excursions every weekend whereas my program didn’t have organized excursions. One weekend my host mom and I went away for the weekend for her niece’s baby shower which was fun and there were a few other things we did together but I wish we had been more consistent in interacting with each other. Interacting with a host family is a great way to learn about the culture.
I Didn’t Lay Out a List of Things I Wanted to Do
I didn’t lay out a list of things I wanted to see and do in Costa Rica partly because no one suggested it and partly because I don’t think I wanted to anticipate certain experiences and then be disappointed if they didn’t happen. Don’t get me wrong, I saw a lot of cool things, but I wish I had kind of declared what I was most interested in and shared it with my classmates so we could have been working together to make each other’s experiences happen.
I Didn’t Think About Taking Photos
I’ve realized that I’m far better at taking photos when I’m at home then when I’m abroad. I have a different mindset when it comes to documentation then when I started traveling. Right now I’m valuing documenting the everday more then I did back then. My travel documentation would have been totally different for my semester abroad if I knew how valuable documenting the everyday was at the time. When you spend a semester or year abroad at some point you’re going to fall into a routine and everday life is going to go on. Don’t miss those moments! Your routine and your surroundings are going to change at some point! I think this is important to remember at home too because how you’re going about your everday life now is different from how you were going about it this time last year. Just take a step back and you’ll see. I’ve also realized that sometimes I’m so focused on navigating my way through a situation that I’m not thinking about taking pictures. Be conscious of documenting your experiences! Coming up with a list beforehand of things you think you want to capture is a great start.
I Wasn’t Descriptive About My Needs and Abilities
I always disclosed my disability but probably because I’m used to how my body works day to day I didn’t consider being very descriptive about my needs and abilities. I’m just used to being able to get through my day and am accustomed to doing it independently. The reality of going abroad is that your surroudings are going to be different. That means that you will at times encounter issues you don’t typically encounter in your daily life at home. This is true of everyone but takes on new meaning when you have a disability. I wish I had used the accommodation forms that Mobility International USA produced even though none of my advisors were asking for this. It would have helped me think through my needs more thoroughly and be able to communicate those to advisors.
I Didn’t Ask Specific Questions About the Physical Environment
Connected to not being descriptive about my needs, I didn’t ask a lot of questions about the physical environment. During my semester abroad the language school my program was based at was in a neighborhood that was at the bottom of hills on all sides. Not the greatest location for a wheelchair user. While this was the only option for this particular program it still could have been at least a little different had I known that before I arrived.
I Didn’t Reach Out to On-Site Director to Get Help
I’m used to being independent and sometimes it can be hard to admit when I need help. With the neighborhood accessibility issues it was difficult to do basically anything outside of my house without help. I wish I had reached out to the on-site director and come up with a plan to get out consistently on the weekends. The director didn’t help because she didn’t know I needed it.
I Didn’t Sit Down with a Study Abroad Advisor Before a Faculty-Led Experience
I participated in a faculty-led experience during graduate school and I regret that I didn’t sit down with a study abroad advisor. This study abroad was a requirement of my program and it seemed that everything was being handled. My classmates and I filled out the forms we were asked to fill out and an advisor came in during one of our class times to talk to us. I disclosed my disability through the forms but I didn’t sit down and ask questions and learn more about how the trip would work. I trusted the professor who seemed to be actively involved in the planning and was my advisor. As the experience unfolded it became apparent that my needs were not as accounted for as I thought they would be. It likely would have been different if I had clarified things earlier.
I Didn’t Speak Up Upon Return About My Experiences So Lessons Could Be Learned
I wish I had told the study abroad director about my experience soon after my semester abroad but I waited until shortly before graduation. My lack of communication was down to I wasn’t being asked and for whatever reason I thought my experience was insignificant to others. Don’t think like that! If it matters to you then tell someone about it!
There you have it. The top 9 things I would do differently and now you can do these things differently. I hope you have a wonderful experience and when you return pay it forward by sharing your own list of things you’d either do differently or wish you had known before. Experience is a great teacher whether it’s learning from your own experiences or someone else’s. I’d love to here your thoughts in the comments!