I never studied abroad.

I know what you’re now thinking to yourself – “wait, why am I going to read a piece about how to get the most out of my study abroad experience from someone who never studied abroad herself.” Well, because you’re not going to hear it from me. You are going to hear it from Nicole Chininis, a Study Abroad Adviser at Bentley University. Not only does Nicole work in the field, but she herself studied abroad when she was in college.

Feel more relieved now? Good!

I asked Nicole some questions to find out how you can get the most out of your study abroad experience. I already regretted never studying abroad in college, but after hearing from Nicole, now I regret it even more.

Read her words yourself, you don’t need me to sum it up!

5 Ways To Get The Most Out Of Your Study Abroad Experience

1. What is the thing you tell students the most who are are wavering between whether to study abroad or not?

There are a variety of reasons why students should go abroad.

First, it really is a once and a life time experience. I always remind students that their ability to travel doesn’t end after they graduate from college, but the ability to live abroad becomes increasingly difficult as the years pass. While you live abroad, you gain invaluable cross-cultural communication skills, gain a new worldly perspective, and become more independent.

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These are all things that perspective employers are looking for. If students are worries about “missing out” on things at school or back home, I remind students that everything changes for you when you go abroad, but everything stays the same here. Your friends don’t go anywhere, but you gain an incredible sense of self and a life time of memories.

2. What is the biggest piece of advice you give to students before they travel to study abroad?

The biggest piece of advice I give is to make goals!

Setting goals for your time abroad can really help you make the most out of your experience. They help you choose the right program and navigate your time abroad.

If you set a goal of learning Spanish, is it smart to study abroad in England? No. But if you set a goal of learning Spanish, how are you going to achieve that? You can do a home stay, have a conversation partner, and make local friends.

Remember that goals aren’t bucket list items! A goal is: “I want to learn about Japanese food culture”, a bucket list item is “I want to eat all the sushi in Japan.” It makes a difference!

3. Why should students study abroad?

The question is more, “Why shouldn’t students study abroad?” I know that there can often be hard barriers for students to study abroad, such as finances or home situations, but there are many different ways to study abroad.

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You can do short term intensive programs which can happen over break, summer programs, or semester long. If finances are an issue, there are many scholarships available such as the Gilman Scholarship which can award up to $5,000 to Pell Grant recipients, or the Diversity Abroad scholarship to help students of marginalized communities to study abroad.

Often times programs themselves will award scholarships, like those through CIEE, IES, or API programs. Study abroad is inclusive and your study abroad or financial aid advisor will work hard to make sure you can take advantage of this amazing opportunity.

4. What is the biggest thing you hear from students when they come back from studying abroad?

Too often students tell me that they wish they would have stayed in their home country/city more. Many students have this idea that study abroad is about country hopping and going from place to place.

I always push back on students and ask what they get out of being in a country for 24 hours? Generally nothing, but just the ability to say you saw a certain place.

It’s really the ability to connect with locals in your host country, improving your foreign language skills, or the feeling of walking around a new city and being able to call it home that really make your experience.

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5. I know you studied abroad in college. What is the thing that still sticks to you to this day?

Study abroad really changed my life. It changed my perspective and made me strive to be a better global citizen. It made me realize that there are different ways of life and to be respectful of it all.

I became fluent in Spanish and still utilize this skill constantly to connect with the people in my community here and in Spain. I loved my experience abroad so much, that I decided to move back abroad after college and make a career out of it. These things stick with me every day and help me navigate how i interact with people on a daily basis.

Did you study abroad? Where to? Answer below in the comments or tweet at us and at Nicole