My name is Lauren, USAC Program Advisor, and I prepare students for a successful study abroad. I help prepare university students for their journey abroad — anywhere from a four-week summer session to a full year abroad.
In my role, I guide students on how to apply for a visa and fill out their passport paperwork; review their housing options; help them book their flight; and answer questions, such as those about the pre-departure process, their host country’s culture, travel abroad and more. I advise a wide range of students, including those who have never left their home state in the U.S. to those who have extensively traveled prior to their study abroad.
I’ve wanted to work in an international field since I was in high school. In college, I studied international relations and worked at the School of International Studies at the University of the Pacific. I also traveled to a few countries as a participant in Model United Nations and had various internships with an international focus. I’m a USAC Prague, Czech Republic alumna and joined the USAC Advising Department as a Program Advisor in 2021.
The following are my reflections and study abroad tips I think every prospective student should keep in mind.
Before You Go
Figure out what you need (or want) to prioritize for studying abroad. Do you want to learn a foreign language? Is completing an international internship on your list of nice-to-haves? Would you love to travel on the weekends? Or maybe you daydream of riding the metro to class in the mornings?
My top requirement was to fulfill my major and multiple minor requirements. So, every class I took in Prague fulfilled one of my university requirements, and I even ended up graduating a semester early because I planned my coursework ahead.
Research Program Fees
Finding a program that fit within my budget was a large consideration factor for my study abroad. I researched the cost of living and overall program fees, and discovered I’d spend less money on housing and food in Prague than in the U.S.
I didn’t want to go abroad with anyone I knew. While I did have several friends studying abroad the same semester, we all chose distinct locations. I knew I was going to have USAC on-site staff to help support me if I needed help, but I felt that I would have a more enriching experience if I put myself in a position to get out on my own and meet people. Having a few goals in mind helped narrow down my study abroad options.
Have No Expectations
I left for the airport with zero expectations, and this was one of the best decisions I made. It made it a lot easier to go with the flow, be open to new experiences, and not have a set plan. To say that Prague exceeded my expectations would be an understatement. I found that after a month or so, it started to feel like home.
Take Baby Steps
Whenever you have some free time, explore this blog and read alumni stories, or watch our YouTube videos. Preparing to study abroad takes time, and there’s a lot you need to do, so work on it a little at a time. Talk to your professors, friends, and family about your intention to study abroad.
If you are early into your college career, set a goal to study abroad during a specific term, whether it’s during the spring term of your junior year or maybe during the summer, or even for an entire year! This will help you figure out your academic schedule and what classes you need to take at your home university, and which ones you can take abroad.
During my sophomore year of college, I visited my academic advisor’s office every few weeks to talk about a new study abroad location I had in mind. However, no matter how much support you have, at the end of the day, you are the one that needs to put in the work to make it happen.
When You’re Abroad
Do One New Thing Daily
You likely have numerous adventures, outings, and experiences you’d like to have during your study abroad but starting with one or two per day is a good way to familiarize yourself with your new city. If you’re someone like me who gets nervous in unfamiliar situations, starting with nearby explorations — such as learning about your new neighborhood or walking from your apartment to a nearby restaurant or cafe — can help get you out of your comfort zone and adjusting to your new culture quickly.
Explore On Your Own
Get out into your new city and don’t worry about getting lost when you’re exploring. This one is tricky; with cell phones, it can be easy to know where you’re at all times. For me, I use Google Maps to navigate where I am or need to go and follow the directions accordingly. However, doing that abroad is incredibly limiting. You can still be safe and practical about this. For example, I knew that when I was exploring, I could easily find a metro station or walk toward the Vltava River to help orient myself.
Exploring on my own became easier the more I did it. I learned that I had to rely on myself to get out there and experience what I wanted to do. I also had to get the thought out of my head that people cared what I was doing.
Bring Comforts from Home
Packing some smaller necessities from home can bring comfort when you’re abroad. I can’t tell you how relieved I was that I brought Dayquil and NyQuil in my suitcase. (Before you do this, call your USAC health provider, CISI, and ask them about bringing medication abroad). These small necessities, such as warm fuzzy socks, your favorite hat, or a small reading lamp, can help bring a bit of your home culture into your new world.
When you are abroad, try to capture moments in mind. Look up at the sky and around you — take in the experience as much as you can. After class, I was in the mood for ice cream so I took the metro into the old town and when I was walking back, I looked up at the sky and I couldn’t believe how blue it was. I still have that vivid image in my head.
I also distinctly remember when one of my roommates and I explored our neighborhood, we came across a church with unlocked doors. Inside, it was freezing, somewhat dark, and we didn’t see anyone in the pews. I still remember the feeling of walking around and exploring inside. Studying abroad is so special, it’s amazing how fast a place that you had no previous connection to becomes home.
When You Return
Stay In Touch
When you come back to the U.S., prepare for people to ask you questions that are difficult to answer. It’s completely normal to feel overwhelmed when you return. One of the greatest parts of studying abroad is the people you’re studying abroad with — they understand what you went through so keep in contact with them when you return. It’s easy to fall back into life at home and put study abroad in a box on your mental shelf but remember that your friends from abroad understand your experience like nobody else will.
You can also reach out to us at USAC for resources on reverse culture shock and adjusting to life back home. We’re here to support you in every aspect of your study abroad experience. Connect with us via email, phone, or through 1:1 advising sessions through our website.