How to Make the Best of Studying Abroad

Hi everyone! My name is Hayley Pritchard. I’m in the blue beanie above! I am a USAC student coming from Portland State University studying in Växjö, Sweden! First, I think it’s really important to start by saying that everyone’s advice and experience is different. I don’t believe that you should take what I or any of the other writers say and use it as a rule book for your time abroad. Read it – yes. Take it to heart and listen – yes. But use others’ advice as a guidebook for your experience, not a rule book.

I chose to study abroad in Växjö  (pronounced veh-quwah), Sweden. I landed on Sweden because of my family heritage, my interest with their public welfare system, and my distant but seriously strong love affair with the incredibly interesting social culture within Sweden and its people. Växjö has a perfect balance of everything I wanted – the charm of a small town, but the engagement, activities, possibilities, people, and opportunities that you could find in a bigger city. Here are just a few tips I’ve gathered in my first three months:

  • Put your phone away.

    I’m all for a good insta-pic, or capturing your favorite street on a day that just won’t be repeated, or being THAT person taking the food pic. But, once you’re with friends, having dinner, drinks, or fika (taking a break and enjoying a warm drink), put your phone away. Not having phones out while we are together just gives us the opportunity to really talk with each other and learn about the people you will spend every day with. I promise you won’t regret it. Here are my incredible friends and I feel like we are extremely close for only knowing each other for 3 months. Apart from telling you where they are from or what their studying, I could probably tell you about their families, their favorite drink, favorite country, and most embarrassing moment – and I love that we can do that!

Hayley and her friends during study abroad
Hayley and her friends during study abroad in Sweden
  • Go somewhere even if you are doubting it.

    If your friends are going out for a drink, or want to go for a walk by the water and you are debating to go or not? GO! My sister studied abroad with USAC in San Sebastian, Spain and that is the best piece of advice she gave me. The experiences where you are doubting but will eventually say yes to are the ones that will have the best stories and will give you the opportunity to build the best connections with your new life-long friends.

Hayley enjoying her time in Sweden
Hayley enjoying her study abroad in Sweden
  • Bring the US medicine you absolutely cannot live without.

    I (sadly) got a cold in my first month here. What an adventure it was going into a Swedish pharmacy and trying to explain the type of medicine I was looking for. If you love love love your Nyquil or Melatonin (which you oddly enough need a prescription for in Sweden), consider bringing some because the odds of the European pharmacy having it are slim-to-none.

  • Check-in with your mental health.

    This is IMPORTANT – wow. In my personal case, it was a serious whirlwind when I arrived here. Trying to navigate a new city, new friends, a new place to live, new schedules, being away from home.. It was shocking. Most days I felt good and well-adjusted. But other day I was down, anxious, and scared. I reached out to my student welfare office and scheduled an appointment with a counselor just to talk. Just having the opportunity to talk with someone about my adjustment helped so much. Remember, that lots of students go through the same thing you’re feeling. This is a great article from another USAC student about studying abroad with a mental illness. It’s common for students who have never had any social anxieties to feel overwhelmed when they are studying abroad. Try not to be afraid to ask for help.

    *USAC has a dedicated Health and Safety Team available to support students and provide resources relating to mental and physical health. USAC also has a 24/7 Emergency phone line available.

  • Make friends with International Students – and Americans!

    During orientation I had a fellow American international student look me dead in the face and promptly and somewhat spitefully say, “I’m not here to make friends with Americans.” Okay… well… yes. I agree, branch out! BUT, there are some things that only fellow American students will understand. You are in a new place and you need those people that will be your home base, the ones who understand EXACTLY what you are going through, whether it’s homesickness, culture shock, or maybe you are seriously craving some goldfish. Find your friends from all over the world, but also find your homebase Americans!

Make international and local friends while you're abroad
Make international and local friends while you’re abroad
  • Make a budget.

  • No seriously. Make a budget. Track your spending.

    I don’t know about you, but I am a planner. I plan weeks, months, even years in advance. And I get paralyzing anxiety if I cannot see a plan for a future or if I just try to wing it. I worked and saved pretty much all summer and the term before leaving for Sweden and felt pretty confident with the amount of money I left with. I still feel confident. My bottom line is that I don’t want to not experience something while I’m here because I wanted to save just a tiny bit of money for when I arrive back in the U.S. in June. And this WILL be something you feel while you’re abroad, unless you have a money tree. (If so, can you share some seeds?!) So, make a budget.

    Always remember to budget for the little, incidental things while you are here. Like (in my case); a travel coffee mug, extra pairs of socks, special shampoo if your hair gets so unmanageable and frizzy when its cold and dry…those kinds of things. Go into Google Sheets and write summaries for the trips you want to do. Write how much plane/train tickets will be. Allow a certain amount for food, drinks, souvenirs, and extras. You should see my sheet now: Stockholm, Rome, Brussels, Ireland…

    *You can use the USAC budget sheet to get an idea of what your time in Sweden will cost you. They have this for every program under the Fees and Deadlines page!

  • Journal!

    This may or may not be for you but I would really encourage you to challenge yourself with this one. Journaling about your trips, your friends, your slow/busy days, or even your sad/happy days will give you something to cherish and look back on when your trip is over.

Overall, just try to enjoy every second. It’s extremely cliche to say that..but I mean it. Honestly. My time in Sweden is almost over, and it feels like it just started. I’ll soak up every single second.

Hayley Pritchard is a Portland State University student. She studied abroad in Växjö, Sweden.