The Do’s and Don’ts of Study Abroad

Maggie Ovian is a student at James Madison University and an ISA Featured Blogger. Maggie is currently studying abroad with ISA in Sevilla, Spain.

How can you feel homesick in a place as beautiful as this!?
How can you feel homesick in a place as beautiful as this!?

I’ve finally finally FINALLY started my year-long study abroad journey and after three weeks here, Sevilla is starting to feel like home.  I have settled into my homestay, made some local friends, and Facebook-friended my host mom and brother (that’s when you know it’s real).  After years of anticipating and researching the study abroad experience and what it was like for so many wanderlust-bitten college students, I’m finally doing it myself and am ready to pass on what I’ve learned so far to other study abroad hopefuls.  So here are my dos and don’ts that have been working for me:


  • Go into the experience without expectations It’s always a good rule of thumb to not expect things to be a certain way when diving into something big, like moving to another country for several months.  I spent so long trying to figure out exactly how my study abroad experience would be through reading other people’s blogs.  But those blogs aren’t going to tell you anything about your future adventures, and even though you may desperately want to know what it’s like before you get there, there’s no way to do this accurately.
  • Reach out to locals It’s easy!  The locals of Sevilla tend to be very accepting and genuinely interested in who you are and where you come from.  Everyone here wants to learn English, so it’s very easy to find an “intercambio” with whom you can spend time with and live as the Spaniards do.  Living in a foreign country is a lot more fun when you have locals to show you how it’s done.
  • Take advantage of every opportunity The busier you are, the less likely it is that you’ll feel homesick.  Stay active to keep your mind off the friends and family you left behind in the States.  Luckily, there is no shortage of awesome activities and opportunities in Sevilla, especially with ISA.  Volunteer, go out, explore, sign up for activities, do it all.  Find your niche in the city and embrace it.  It’ll start to feel like home in no time.
Pack it full!
Pack it full!


  • Dwell on the distance I was feeling a little homesick one day and went to my host mom for comfort.  She pointed out that back home I go to school out of state and don’t get to see my family that often, and it’s the same idea here.  Don’t focus on the fact that you’re an ocean away from everyone you feel comfortable with, and just take it day by day.  You’ll see everyone soon enough, and as for right now you’re in another country! Take a walk and enjoy the new scenery because it won’t be long before you have to go back!
  • Constantly be in contact with friends and family at home At the beginning of the program, our ISA directors suggested we make a pledge to only spend a certain amount of time per week talking to friends and family back home, and I have to say it’s really helped.  Not that you should ignore them, but you will definitely feel more homesick if you’re always on Skype. Everyone is different, but I would suggest only an hour or so a week chatting with people from home.  That way you can stay connected, but you won’t be missing out in your new country.
  • Skimp too much on the packing Ok this one is a little out of the ordinary and the opposite of what everyone else will tell you to do.  I was told that you should lie out your essentials and then take away half.  I did just that and I’m not sure if it was the right choice.  Yes, you are going to buy a lot when you travel to another country, but honestly there are so many clothes that I’ve already paid for sitting at home unused when I could have been wearing them here.  Maybe it’s just me, but I felt like I was out of things to wear within the first week.  It is difficult to travel with a lot of things, but once I got settled with my host family and put all my clothes away, I was wishing I had that sweater for when it started to get chilly rather than going out and buying a new one.

That’s what I have for do’s and don’ts so far! Feel free to leave yours in the comment section!

6 thoughts

  1. good one about the packing. I felt the same way on my first trip to overseas. And after years traveling I still have problems to pack. I hate having to buy stuff when I am away but I also hate having to carry a lot. I just don’t know how to solve this problem…

  2. You couldn’t be more right about taking advantages of opportunities and getting involved with locals! I am in madrid now and I don’t know what I would do without my Spanish friends. Everything from the best tapas bars to scouring Madrid for a piso, plus I have yet to find a Spanish guy who isn’t an amazing kisser, which trust me, doesn’t make my life awful by any means. I studied abroad with ISA Granada in Fall 2010 and I would have changed a lot of things I did. First, one thing I would never change are the friends I made. Some of the best friends I have in the world are all over the states and I met them from my study abroad program. However, some regrets, while studying abroad, I didn’t learn as much Spanish as I would have liked. I had a Spanish “novio” who I would like to forget about. Hahaha #embarassinglifemoments. Lastly, my homestay. It was awful. I wish I would have changed homes and 100% regret that I didn’t. However, my awful homestay didn’t keep me from being in love with Spain! A couple months ago I moved to Madrid to be an Auxiliar de Conversacion and I love my piso and roommates, my job and of course, Madrid!

  3. i agree SO MUCH on your “underpacking” comment. I did the same exact thing and wish I had brought more. also…ill be in granada next weekend!

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