Top 5 Things Future Study Abroad Students Should Know

By Kevin Varley –  Kevin is a GlobaLinks Learning Abroad Alumni Ambassador who studied abroad at Freie Universität Berlin. Kevin is from Iowa State University. 

Kevin Farley - GlobaLinks Learning Abroad Alumni Ambassador

Kevin Varley – GlobaLinks Learning Abroad Alumni Ambassador

Nothing beats listening to the voice of experience, though I promise I am no expert. Being the first in my family to study abroad I had the opportunity to take this big leap without any real preconceptions. But here is what I wish I knew or had thought of before I went overseas.

1. It’s okay to go it alone. There’s nothing wrong with traveling on your own. In fact, nothing says independence like packing up your stuff and hitting the open road with just you, singular. Part of the adventure is not knowing what lies ahead of you or what you might discover. For my spring break in Germany, I planned a trip to Paris and Salzburg. Other students had plans for Istanbul, London, Portugal or even Scandinavia and traveled in groups. I could have tagged along, but I had my own destinations I wanted to see. Each morning I woke up in Paris and took the train into the city with just a map and a list of sights to see. I could go anywhere I felt like and see things I had always wanted to. If I wanted to sit in the Louvre all day or eat nothing but crepes, there was no one to stop me. Studying abroad is all about finding yourself – don’t be afraid to do you.

2. You’ll meet your best friends. In all likelihood you’ll meet plenty of people just like yourself along the way. My four greatest friends are those I met overseas. On a train from Paris to Munich I met a girl from Michigan and I spent two days in Salzburg traveling around with a California native I met at my hostel. Just sitting in a restaurant once, writing a postcard home, I met a fellow traveler from Berlin who happened to go to the same university. Even within your GlobaLinks group, you’ll meet friends you’ll have for life. My BCP was over a year ago and I still talk to my GlobaLinks friends every day. Those you meet abroad form a special bond that no other friendship can compare to. You become fast friends in a short amount of time and while in the US you may be separated by a few hundred or thousand miles, but hey, there’s just one more reason to travel.

3. Keep a journal. This is something I really wish I had done and had no real excuse not to do. My good friend wrote every night, even if it was just a few scribbles while he and I rode the S-Bahn back home from a night out. There is no better way to keep track of your day-to-day experiences and little moments that might fall between the cracks. Certainly Mom, Dad and Grandma will want to know what you’ve been up to and it won’t hurt to have something to help you look back on those days abroad. Even a weekly blog can help your family keep track of what’s going on and who knows, you just might kick start your travel-writing career. If you think you have a knack for it, GlobaLinks has a correspondence program where you could have your very own mini-celebrity travel blog.

4. Don’t be afraid to be a tourist. Anytime I travel I have a habit of trying to blend in as much as possible, and shunned anything that seemed too “touristy.” I didn’t exactly like being associated with the loud groups who wandered aimlessly through the streets with their backpacks and cameras. They crowded the subways and blocked my view in museums (I mean, come on, I’m here for class!). So I did my best to hide the camera, lose the backpack and avoid asking directions or using English. But it’s more than okay to fall back on those – after all, tourists can be pretty efficient when it counts. They’re out there for the same reasons you are and there’s plenty of cool stuff to be seen. There’s plenty to explore off the beaten path but you certainly can’t miss out on seeing the highlights.

Photos courtesy of

Photos courtesy of

5. Just go for it. Nothing adventured, nothing gained. I’m not usually one for decisive action and bold, risky measures but I am glad I jumped at the chance to study abroad. Having been overseas, I can’t imagine my life now without that experience. Studying abroad gave me incredible opportunities and taught me so much about myself. I matured as a person and met four of my very best friends. Any time I talk about going abroad, I always mention that there’s a whole wide world of adventure out there and you’ll never know what it’s like until you take that leap. Just go for it, I promise you’ll have the experience of a lifetime.

6 Responses to “Top 5 Things Future Study Abroad Students Should Know”
  1. I can’t wait to go abroad, and I really enjoy this post, but as a woman, Number One has always been something I was warned against, that I could never go anywhere overseas alone or Liam Neeson would have to come find me. Thoughts?

    • Alex says:

      I traveled alone for a week in while I was studying abroad and it all worked out. I’m a 19 year old female and was in Vietnam for that week. Just be smart, but don’t be deterred from traveling alone just because you’re a female.

  2. Niki says:

    One time I met a guy named Kevin when I studied abroad.

  3. Rob Houck says:

    I studied abroad 3 times, 2x as undergraduate, once as graduate at age 30 with wife and 12 month old daughter. Staying AWAY from other Americans is key. You can see them here any time. It is hard to meet locals if you travel in a group. I think it’s a 50% waste of time to go if you don’t speak the language. Study it and really concentrate on it while there. It will never be easier to learn. But I know that’s old fashioned. If you are there during the winter, be prepared for lots of darkness. Fight sleepiness and depression. I did it by looking in office windows and seeing people working evening though it was VERY dark. Drinking beer does NOT help you stay awake! I hitched a lot. I think this is less common because cheap, reliable cars are available. Too bad. I recall every ride I got and this was LONG ago. Keep in touch with people you meet and like. There’s no excuse not to with e-mail. Traveling alone can be scary and lonely. It will pass. Keep focused. It’s particularly hard if you are sick or the weather is bad. In the winter, the northern countries are better to visit – they are prepared for cold weather. I froze in Italy at Christmas. If you study at a European university, their system assumes you are mature and self directed. If you expect to be led by the hand, you will be in trouble.

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  1. […] to hear more alumni stories? Read Kevin’s advice about the Top 5 Things Study Abroad Students Should Know. Learn more about the GlobaLinks Learning Abroad Alumni […]

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