Olivia O’Toole is a student at University of Colorado Boulder and an ISA Featured Blogger. She studied abroad with ISA in Barcelona, Spain.
1. Go places alone
Although this may seem like a weird tip, exploring your study abroad city alone has many perks and can really get you involved in the local community. I know for me, when I hung out with my friends and went out to eat with other Americans, I didn’t speak any Spanish at all. It’s very easy to fall into your comfort zone when you hang out with people who speak your native language. So branch out and force yourself to become involved with the culture and language of your city!
2. Check with your program to see if there are any community service activities
When I first arrived in Barcelona, I felt like I was just spending all my money and not doing anything beneficial for anyone other than myself. I knew I wanted to help someone in some, way but I didn’t know how. As it turns out, ISA had a community service project at a local garden! This was a great way for me to meet the locals and feel more involved in the community.
3. Participate in a student exchange
At my university in Barcelona, the classes are taught in English. I found it hard to practice my Spanish when I was learning in English all day. There is this great program called an “intercambio” that connects you with a Spanish student and you meet up and talk to improve your language (in my case Spanish). It might seem weird at first, but give it a try!
4. Do a homestay
This may not be an option for everyone, but if you have the opportunity, stay with a family (rather than an apartment) while studying abroad. This connects you not only with the local culture immediately, but also the local cuisine (YUM). You can even ask your host family the best places to see, eat and explore that might not be in all the touristy books.