The students who get the most out of their time living abroad are those who use their time wisely. While you should certainly leave room for spontaneity and "living in the moment," you should also set goals and make plans to ensure you achieve what you want while abroad. Below is a list of things to keep in mind when planning for what you want to get out of your study abroad experience.
- Set immersion goals for yourself. The key to learning culture is immersion. If you are learning another language, immersion is absolutely essential. Sometimes it is comforting to hang out with others who share your culture and language, but you won't make progress toward being bicultural if you don't spend time with locals. Many students choose to live in apartments with locals or take homestay options, if available, in order to ensure that they are using the local language daily.
- Network wisely. Meeting random people at the local coffee shop is an exciting and fun learning experience, but set goals to get to know certain people better, such as:
- Your professors, especially language instructors and those who teach in your major. They can give you real insight into the local culture and local perspectives on your field.
- Local business persons. Not only do they have a different perspective on your host country, but they are great resources for potential career opportunities. An UMSL student got to know a business person on one of our programs in China. That person later offered the student a job at the company's California location when he graduated.
- Local organizations. Volunteering your time is a wonderful way to get to know people and to see culture from a different (non-academic) perspective. Make sure you understand the legal rules around volunteering in your host country and start volunteering early - don't wait until the end of your time abroad. Students in the past have volunteered at local clinics, schools, social services centers, churches, etc.
- Balance your contact with home. Too much and you will miss many opportunities in your host country; too little and your family and friends may start to worry. Checking in with everyone back home is perfectly normal, but if you're following the escapades of your friends back in the US, you're missing out on your chance to have your own escapades.
- Stay healthy. It's difficult to experience anything when you're sick. So make sure you eat well, exercise, get plenty of rest and do all those other things that will allow you to participate in all the activities that present themselves.
- Manage your money wisely. Create a budget and stick with it. Many students spend too much money in restaurants and pubs early in their program and end up regretting their tight budgets near the end when they have a better idea of the experiences they want to have.
- Travel, but not too much. Study abroad is a chance to see the wider world, but it is also a chance to get to know one new place really well.
- Wait a few weeks before traveling. Give yourself time to settle in to your new place before sprinting off to see somewhere else.
- Don’t book all of your weekend trips in advance. Leave room for spontaneous trips or for weekends exploring your local area with a depth that tourists can’t.
- Stay late. Stretch that experience out a little longer for a chance to show off your newly acquired independence and self-reliance. One student spent the time before and after his semester in Uruguay backpacking around the rest of South America, trying out his Spanish skills and his adaptability.
- STUDY abroad.
- Take classes that allow you to gain knowledge about your host country. If you can, take a history, literature, or similar class about your host country.
- Don’t underestimate the academic differences between UMSL and your host university. Befriend local students to help you understand the academic expectations of your host university.
- Pay attention during orientation. You’ll learn a lot of useful tips that may save you from heartache later.
- Record your experience. Take lots of photos and videos, but also make sure you write: journal, blog, something. The photos will help you remember your experiences and show a bit of your life abroad to everyone back home. Writing will help you relive and process those memories for years to come.
- Keep your experience relevant when you return.
- Update your résumé.
- Get involved on campus. UMSL offers a buddy program for incoming students, activities at the iHouse, and other international events.
- Volunteer or work somewhere relevant to your experience. One of the best ways to build on your experience (and keep your language skills sharp) is to volunteer somewhere like the International Institute of St. Louis or the St. Louis MOSAIC Project.
Obtaining course evaluations by email while abroad:
Students on semester programs may find that the course offerings have changed once they arrive on site. It is important that you seek course approvals from UMSL early, ideally within the first two weeks of the program abroad, once you have decided the classes you plan to take.
Follow the same procedures as the standard course approval process using the directions laid out in the Learning Agreement item in your Triton Globetrotter application.
Returning to the United States after living abroad can be just as difficult and challenging as your first weeks or months abroad! Called “reverse cultural stress,” coming home is a transition that takes time and effort to do successfully. While you probably haven’t even left your host country yet, it’s important to start preparing now for your return home.
Pre-return checklist for students on semester/year/summer exchanges or non-UMSL programs:
- Turn in all required assignments and take final exams at your host university.
- Arrange for your transcript to be sent to the Study Abroad office. This can usually be done by contacting the international office at your host institution.
- Study Abroad
University of Missouri-St. Louis
One University Blvd
St. Louis, MO 63121
- Study Abroad
- Course Approvals: If you took any courses that were not originally part of your Learning Agreement, please have them approved as soon as possible.
- Deadline: your course approvals should be completed immediately upon your return, and no later than one month after your return date.
- Transcripts: Confirm whether you must personally request a transcript and that your transcript will be sent to the UMSL study abroad office, not any other office on campus.
- Future financial aid may be contingent upon receipt of your transcripts and course evaluations!
- Make sure that you do not owe your host university or residence any money because that may delay the release of your transcript.
- Register for next semester at UMSL.
- If needed, arrange for housing at UMSL.
- Ship home whatever you can’t bear to part with or doesn't fit in your suitcase.
- Confirm your airline reservations 48 hours prior to departure.
- Take all those pictures you’ve been meaning to take of your host university, city, and friends (remember: there’s an international photo contest in March that you can enter!)
- Collect contact information from your new friends so you can stay in touch after returning to St. Louis.
Program Completion Checklist for all students
As you may notice, being back can be as challenging as your first few days and weeks in your host country! The Study Abroad office is here to help you however possible with your readjustment to life in the US. In order to make a successful transition back to UMSL, please complete the following steps:
- SURVEY: Complete the Study Abroad Post-Program Survey on Triton Globetrotter. This survey will help future study abroad students and assist our office in evaluating our programs and partner relationships. You should allow 45 minutes to complete the survey.
- Deadline: You should complete the survey within two weeks of your return
- SCHOLARSHIP REQUIREMENT*: If you receive a scholarship from International Studies and Programs, you must complete at least one of the below requirements:
- PROGRAM ESSAY: Write a “Study Abroad Experience” and share with us your photos or blogs from abroad. Some examples of what other students have shared is online (link)
- STUDY ABROAD VIDEO: Create a video that will be used to promote study abroad on campus. This could consist of a simple on-camera interview about your program, and if you have any other videos or photos that we could add to it, that would be perfect!
We hope that you will continue to be involved in international activities here on the UMSL campus through activities such as meeting international students, practicing foreign languages, and entering the international photo contest in the spring semester. Here are some other ways to stay involved with Study Abroad. For more information, review the “ After You Return” link in the navigation menu. There, you will find information on volunteer opportunities, certificate programs, tips to update your resume, and information on going abroad again.
We would also enjoy the opportunity to speak with you personally about your experience. Please stop by the Study Abroad office when you're back on campus; we can't wait to hear your stories and see your pictures!