5 Tips for a Successful Semester Abroad

Mary Donofrio is a student at Muhlenberg College and an ISA Featured Blogger. Mary studied abroad with ISA in Christchurch, New Zealand.

Photo by Fall 2014 ISA Photo Contest participant Paige Halper.

Kia ora everyone,

I hope the new year is treating you well! I arrived back in the U.S. right before Thanksgiving, and have been missing New Zealand terribly ever since. I miss my friends, the weather, the landscape– pretty much everything about it. Still, reuniting with my family and friends has been great, and I’m remembering what I love about home. For my last post, I thought I would give you some advice regarding how to make the most of your time abroad, there and back again:

  • If you think you can get something while you’re abroad, leave it at home:  My personal packing mantra. Travel is expensive, and it can be even more expensive when you have a lot of stuff. At least try to stick to your airline’s maximum baggage allowance that comes with your ticket, and invest in a large, light-weight suitcase if you haven’t already. If you can make do with less than that, even better, because that means less stuff to bring back and more room to pick up items in your travels.
  • Be adventurous:  This is kind of a given, but your semester abroad is the perfect time to step out of your comfort zone. Try new things! If they’re completely unfamiliar to you, even better! You will probably never get the chance to do them again, so the time is now. With that being said, please be safe, thoughtful, and self-aware in your risk-taking.
  • Make connections:  This also seems obvious, but I strongly encourage you to meet people, and not just the other people on your program. Meeting the locals helps you figure out more about what life in your host country is really like, and is a great resource for advice and suggestions of what to do in the area. Your ISA Resident Director is also a great resource as well. Stephanie, my RD in Christchurch, was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met, and was so helpful and supportive throughout my time abroad. Without her, I definitely would have had a much harder time adjusting, and would have not found out about some of my favorite places in Christchurch.
  •  Document your time abroad:  Whether you take lots of pictures or video, journal or blog, sketch, or whatever other creative ideas you can think of to remember how you spent your semester, make sure you do something. Being able to look at photos or read what you were thinking and feeling is not only great for you, but if you chose to share, it’s a good way to keep your family and friends updated. I blogged about my time abroad and not only did my family and friends get to read about what I got up to, but I can look back now and remember the amazing experiences I had in New Zealand more clearly than if I hadn’t written things down. However you choose to document your time is up to you, just know that you’re doing yourself a favor by doing so.
  • Do what you are interested in doing:  If you’re coming from a school where study abroad is a very popular option (like mine), you may get something that I like to call “semester abroad envy.” With so many people out exploring so many amazing places, it’s not hard to wish you were right there with them. While I was in New Zealand, I saw so many beautiful photos of my friends adventuring around the whole world, and while I desperately wanted to go to all of those places too, what helped me was remembering that I was doing the same thing, but in a place that I loved and really wanted to visit. I guess the moral of the story is:  be confident in your choice, and enjoy your time where you are, because it goes by so fast.

So there you have it– some advice of how to make your semester abroad one of the best experiences ever! Mine certainly was, and I definitely highly encourage you to spend a semester abroad if you can. Thank you to ISA for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences with all of you! It’s been an amazing experience, and I’m sorry to see it end!

Want to read more about the lovely climes of New Zealand? Check out “4 Exotic Places to Explore in New Zealand.”