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5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Your Semester Abroad

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I had an amazing time with IFSA at the University of Sydney. I returned home with a newfound love of traveling and appreciation of my college at home. I am so grateful I had the opportunity to study abroad, and I learned so much about Sydney and about myself, but towards the end of my semester I realized there were still so many places I wanted to see. During my time abroad, I got to see the Big Buddha in Phuket, the beaches in Bali, and the cutest little penguins in St. Kilda. I got to visit all these places and more, but I still found myself overwhelmed with all the possibilities that remained in Sydney, let alone Australia or surrounding countries. So, considering the struggles I had with planning while abroad, here are 5 ways to get the most out your own semester abroad:

1. Stick to your own city first.

Try to explore your host city as soon as possible. Plan the small trips around your host city first, because they are the ones most likely to be forgotten. It can be easy to focus on the big adventures to other countries or cities, but odds are the city you are staying in is pretty wonderful and full of exciting possibilities! Make a checklist early and throughout you \ r semester try to check off one small adventure per week. One of my goals in Sydney was to visit as many beaches as possible. My program advisor recommended the walk from Bondi to Coogee, and after doing that, I was hooked! Bondi Beach is probably one of the most popular beaches in all of Australia, but my favorite was Manly (even though I also got the worst sunburn of my life there!).

2. Budget, budget, budget!

Between trying new foods, going to museums, and the occasional shopping trip, chances are you will check your bank account halfway through the semester and be pretty shocked. From the very beginning, figure out your meal situation and how much you should spend on food each week. Once you start to budget, you’ll realize how little you actually need and how to spend your money on the things that matter to you. It is easy to get lazy and spend too much money on food, especially if you are used to eating in a dining hall. I soon realized I needed to cook at home more and save my money for the more adventurous food options. My friend and I found the best restaurant in Newtown, a trendy neighborhood near the University of Sydney. Aptly named the “Golden Lotus”, our favorite restaurant was all vegan and served the best pho I have ever had! We quickly became obsessed; I had my last meal in Australia at the Golden Lotus.

3. Find some travel buddies.

It is easier to travel to new places if you have some friends to go with you! Find friends with similar interests to you that want to go to the same places. You don’t want to feel stuck because your friends decide they don’t want to travel or they only want to stay in the hotel. Having friends who are also adventurous and flexible can really improve your time abroad! That being said, I also took a trip to Brisbane by myself, and it was one of the most liberating experiences. I learned a lot about myself, and I think it’s important to go on at least one solo trip. You will certainly push yourself out of your comfort zone!

4. Talk to one new person a day.

This will seem really hard, but when you are in a new place, you will be constantly meeting new people. As the semester goes on, try to keep up this curiosity and learning by continuing to engage with new people. Trust me, it is more fun to have some friends from your host city and to be able to go home and say you made some Australian friends! I found myself making friends in random places: on the train, in a new restaurant. Let yourself be open, talkative, and curious. I still have a Snapchat streak with a friend I met in one of my tutorials!

5. Take some time for yourself.

At the end of the day, this might seem a little overwhelming. Make sure you take a little time every week for yourself. Being in a new country can make you feel super homesick and sometimes a little anxious. Take care of yourself and your mental health and set aside some time to rest and reflect so that you have the proper energy to keep exploring later! Towards the middle of my semester, I was getting overwhelmed by work, and I needed a little break. This is where solo adventures can be really helpful. I remember just getting on the train and getting off at a random stop and then walking around the city. It was really nice to go out with zero expectations and just explore.
If there is anything that I can leave you with it is this: your time abroad will be special no matter what, but you can make it better by adding a little planning. There were times when I was abroad where I just wanted to go home because I felt so overwhelmed, but I found that taking the time to write down some of my goals helped me realize what I wanted to get from my time abroad. While I was abroad, I learned the importance of creating opportunity, and I carried that habit home with me. I realized you can’t just go through life waiting for things to happen to you, you need to go out and make them happen.

Diana Matthiessesn is a student at Williams College and studied abroad with IFSA at the University of Sydney in Sydney, Australia in 2017.