Studying abroad is truly a little life of its own on the bigger picture of one’s path. It teaches you things you otherwise would have never come to or even thought of, the main one being how small we all are in this big world, but how we can grow to be important by sacrifice, curiosity, hard work and open mindedness. Coming to Zagreb, I piled up a whole list of the things I was looking forward to and expecting to happen. Half of my expectations about friends, speaking the language, traveling, set way too high to begin with, were not met – but that’s for the best. It is simply impossible to get too much done in just a semester, so I learned to prioritize and plan my time better. Now that my program is long over, I can reflect on my time in Croatia in an organized manner.
I have greatly improved my Croatian, and not only can I talk about daily routine things; but even communicate in a sophisticated way in the business environment; thanks to the many professional development events provided by ZSEM. I have not visited all the places I wanted to, due to personal reasons/health, but I am extremely grateful for the trips inside and outside of Croatia that I was lucky to make with my friends. As any study abroad, mine is over; it has flown by so fast and I was so unprepared to leave the town I am happy to call my European home now. So long, Zagreb, see you in August, when I will be coming to visit my friends once again! And I am certain I will be coming back again and again over the span of my life, finding new corners and unexplored little streets, hidden secret spots and new restaurants. Now, I am off in Paris, doing an internship at a reputable modeling agency, as I could not miss out on the offer while having no work to do in Zagreb; I am extremely excited and ready for it, as well as for my next study abroad adventure – a semester in Tokyo, Japan, at Temple University Japan Campus.
As a finishing (or an almost finishing 😉 ) point of my blogging duty, I have compiled a short guide to how to get the most out of YOUR study abroad experience, based on my own observations, mistakes and lessons learned.
- Spend every moment you can outside. You heard me. It’s okay to stay in from time to time when you really need to, but it is only possible to get the most out of your time abroad by exploring in and outside in your new hometown.
I know it always seems like these 4-5 months are an eternity and you will have enough time to do everything, but trust me, they fly by extremely fast. Which leads to my next point:
- Don’t postpone. If you dreamed to go to the theater to see that one performance, go and buy tickets for the nearest evening you are available and free from your student duties. Always wanted to do a tour of a palace/castle? Go for it! If you think you will have time later – you won’t, and no one wants to finish their study abroad regretting not having experienced something they came there for.
- Befriend the local residents. Sticking around the study abroad students all the time might feel more relaxing (less language barrier, same interests and background etc.), but you will only truly get to know the culture by hanging out with the people who are from your program location. Go to the events organized by your university; research some networking/mingling events around town, talk to your classmates after all! Your language skills will increase greatly, and, after all, who if not the local people know all the best spots of the city?
- Limit the time devoted to your family/friends back home. I know this might sound harsh coming from me, but you’ll thank me later. It is important to stay in touch with family, but by texting your best friend every day or calling your mom every evening, you’re missing out on all the great things you could be doing in a foreign country.
- Prepare to make important decisions on your own, sometimes – quickly. While Temple study abroad staff is always happy to help you, as well as your on-site coordinators and parents, learn to be independent in everything non-life threatening (in the latter case; contact your coordinator immediately!). Figuring out accommodation and transportation, maps, opportunities for self-development: managing to do it by yourself would be a great help if traveling.
- Slow down on traveling. This is especially important for those going to Europe, where you’re in a new country within 2 hours of driving. Living like a local in your program destination is important, otherwise it would be a touristic, not a study abroad experience. Moreover, making a new trip every weekend in hopes to see everything is a pathway to seeing nothing. You need time to take it in truly, so slow down and plan wisely.
- Research, research, research – and ask around. Virtually the only way to find new sites, museums and restaurants for your bucket list, and it pays off.
- Get involved & actually STUDY. A lot of students mistakenly assume that their study abroad is all about having fun, partying and careless way of living. A secret revealed: it’s not. If you party every night, you will hate your days there. Not taking advantage of your foreign professors, volunteer and professional opportunities while at a university not only might lead to bad/non-passing grades, but it is also a way to miss out on experiencing a new culture in a whole other way; and for those who are concerned with this – not boosting your resume once again.