Study abroad stories

Sophie Ibbotson read Oriental Studies at Clare College, Cambridge and her course included a year studying at the American Institute of Indian Studies in Jaipur, India. She is now a director of Maximum Exposure Productions, an investment promotion firm specialising in emerging markets.

There are days when I think I should get up, throw a dart into a map, and get on a plane to wherever the dart has stuck. Given the amount of sea on the map, however, this isn’t really the smartest way to explore the world, and so usually by breakfast time I’ve changed my mind and am putting more realistic travel plans in place.

Like many people, my first extended period living overseas was at university. I was studying my major in Hindi and the course included a compulsory study abroad programme in India so that I could improve my language skills. I couldn’t wait to get on that plane.

Here are my tips for getting the most out of your time abroad:

1. Make a clear plan
Work out right at the beginning what you want to get out of your time overseas. Do you want to improve your language skills or study a course that isn’t offered elsewhere? Is your objective to gain exposure to a different culture? Are you trying to build up a network of contacts for use in later life? Put your top priorities on a sheet of paper and then design yourself a programme that works towards those ends. Even if the programme has already been created for you, it will still help you keep focused on what’s important whilst you’re away.

2. Select your destination carefully
Read up on the different countries or cities where you might be able to study. Think about the pros and cons of each, what you will learn from being there, how much it will cost, whether or not it is safe etc. Remember, this will be your home for a protracted period, so choose somewhere you can keep up at least some of your hobbies and have a social life as everyone needs the chance to relax after school.

3. Be prepared!
Think well in advance about your paperwork and vaccinations, as you don’t want to be arranging these at the last minute. Check your passport is in date and has pages left. Find out if you need a visa and, if so, how to go about getting it. Ask if you need any vaccinations and buy malaria tablets if they’re required.

4. Learn some language skills
If you’re going to a country where English is not the first language, make the effort to learn a dozen key phrases. Being able to say hello and how are you, ask someone’s name and count to 10 shows local people that you’re making an effort to get to know their homeland, and such effort is usually reward.

5. Keep a diary and take lots of pictures
Whether you’re studying abroad for a month or a year, the time will undoubtedly fly by and what at first seemed strange and wonderful will quickly become commonplace. Write a diary about your experiences, what you see and do, and how you feel. Share your thoughts on a blog, or post your pictures on Facebook, so that in years to come you’ll have a permanent record of this extraordinary period in your life.

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