Life While Studying Off-Campus
One of the greatest challenges of off-campus study is figuring out how to how have the most rewarding experience possible given the limited time in your host culture. Consider how you may need to adjust your mindset and actions in order to get the most out of your time off-campus.
Remember that everyone has very personal reasons for experiencing new social worlds; you cannot use the standards of others to evaluate your own experience, because everyone will have a different idea of what would be the best possible off-campus experience. Also understand that your experience may turn out differently than you hope, so it is important to be willing to let go of your vision. That is, make plans—but be willing to abandon them. When exploring, you’ll never quite find exactly what you had dreamed. The most memorable travel experiences usually find you by accident, and the qualities that make you fall in love with a place are rarely the features that brought you there in the first place. Be willing to adapt your vision, goals, and values as you grow and have more life experiences, for "if you set off with specific agendas and goals, you will at best discover the pleasure of actualizing them. But if you wander with open eyes and simple curiosity, you’ll discover a much richer pleasure—the feeling of possibility as you move from place to place" (Potts).
Embrace opportunities for personal growth and learning. Don’t miss out on opportunities to meet new people, hear their stories, and learn about their values. The reality is that everything is uncomfortable during study abroad. You have to be willing to make mistakes and embarrass yourself; become comfortable being uncomfortable. Studying abroad in a new place and with new people gives you a clean slate—an opportunity to break old habits and face your inner fears. Having this sort of fearless mindset will make it easier for you to be social and open-minded with others while off campus. The first step is to start doing things to quiet your inner bully and be willing to accept yourself regardless of the outcome of your actions.
View travelling as a combination of both having fun and broadening your perspective. Refuse to be a “dumbed down” tourist—become more educated about and engaged with challenging issues, using the past to understand the present. Take advantage of opportunities to enjoy history as you travel— if you try to gain a general grasp of history, you’ll be able to give your sightseeing much more meaning. The more you know, and the more you strive to learn, the richer your travels and life become. No matter where you go, be open to new experiences, seek options that get you out of your comfort zone, and try to be a cultural chameleon—trying on new ways of looking at things and striving to become a “temporary local” (Steves).
Seize the moment
It is important to live in the present moment, rather than just moving on mentally to the next thing. Studying off campus often complicates matters by adding a new layer of distraction and things to stress about. However, travel should not be used as a temporary escape from reality, but rather as a search for a wider reality; watch out for behaviors like worrying and multi-tasking , because letting your mind wander too much will only get in the way of your happiness while off-campus. Living in the present moment, on the other hand, will have benefits including improved concentration, increased relaxation, and increased connection to your experience. Some ways to live in the present moment include turning off technology, taking a breath, using your senses, talking to people, setting reminders, talking to yourself, and letting go (Smith).
Also remember that the value of your travels does not depend on how many stamps you have in your passport when you get home. Many students set out on study abroad wanting to visit as many different countries as possible, but it is better to experience a single place slowly and in depth than to experience forty countries hurriedly and superficially. Ease your way into your travels, and slow down—the point of long-term travel is having the time to move deliberately through the world. Don’t try to “hit all the sights”; stay organized and interested but don’t keep a strict “things to do” list (Potts).
Remember, you don’t have to wait for a crisis situation to happen in order to take action—you are constantly faced with the choice of whether to give in to your fears or choose a different way (Smith). The best travel experiences won’t just come to you—you have to reach for them and let them breathe (Steves).
You will need to manage your negative thoughts, such as self-doubt, constantly comparing yourself to others, and being afraid of making a mistake. You cannot erase your negative thoughts permanently; you have to just acknowledge them and keep going. Once you can move past this inner bully of yours, you can start to be more creative and ambitious in your new life and travels. Be reasonably skeptical of those who push fear, and know that in many cases, the flipside of fear is a better understanding of others (Steves).
You will inevitably have some down days while studying off campus. These will feel like any other bad day you’ve had at home, but you won’t have your usual support systems around to help. One of the best solutions is to get away by yourself for a while in order to think clearly; when you’re culturally and linguistically exhausted, temporary and occasional withdrawal is healthy and necessary to “recharge your batteries.” Finally, acknowledge that living in another country and learning a new language is tough—don’t be too hard on yourself. In short, embrace the ambiguous and be open to anything that comes your way.
Finance is often one of the biggest concerns of students who study off campus. However, don't keep yourself from having valuable experiences abroad just because you assume you can't afford it. Consider the following ways you can spend responsibly while off campus and make your overall experience more affordable.
Scholarships and Funding
There are many scholarships to support study abroad; the only way to be sure you will not get funding support is to not apply. Check individual scholarship eligibility, application process, and application deadlines, as they will vary.
Commonly applied for scholarships (Please refer to the Lawrence Off-Campus Programs Funding Page as well.)
- Helen Barr Rudin Study Abroad Grant
- Reed Award for Off-Campus Study in Francophone Countries (French students)
- Dorrit Friedlander Scholarship (German students)
- Program providers (including IES, ISA, SEA, Arcadia, and SFS)
- Gilman Scholarship (Pell grant recipients)
- Creative funding (personal fundraising/crowd source funding)
Tips for Managing Money
- Understand exchange rates and fees you might have for international use of your cards.
- Notify your bank and credit card companies before you leave if you will be using your accounts overseas. They will freeze your accounts.
- Figure out your budget – this might be the first time you are paying for transportation, travel, groceries, entertainment, etc.
- You will often want to avoid exchange booths.
- ATMs and credit cards are often the best way of accessing money – refer to advice from your program on the most accessible and safest way to access money.
- Avoid carrying large amounts of cash.
- You may want some local currency for your arrival.
- Suggestion: Have three forms of having or getting cash at any time (and don’t carry all three of them together) Credit cards, ATM/debit card, prepaid Visa card
- ISIC = International Student Identity Card
- Internationally recognized form of student identification that gives you student discount rates at places such as museums, theaters, restaurants, and concerts, as well as on airplane and train tickets.
- Some students do not get them (and find discounts other ways) and some students swear by them – talk to past study abroad students and refer to suggestions from your program.
- Purchase one from STA Travel before you leave (about $25) –can also get them in many major cities around the world.
- Creating a Budget for Studying Abroad - A six-step guide for making a study abroad budget for seeing the world without going broke.
- Budget Calculator - Butler University resource that allows you to calculate a budget and categorize your various expenses.
- XE Currency Converter - Offers a currency conversion calculator as well as the latest exchange rates and analysis.
Communication and Social Media
Remember that constant contact is not a good thing while you study off campus as it hinders cultural (and linguistic!) immersion. It is also counter-productive to moving past homesickness; when you feel homesick, you should get out and do something. Be deliberate about how you spend your time online and be sure that you are taking full advantage of your time off-campus. Make a plan for how (and how often) you will be in touch with your friends and family. Be aware of the time you spend on the internet or in communication with friends in the US. Consider designating a certain amount of time online each week. Also remember that a little isolation helps you grow.
- Tech May Get In The Way Of Good Culture Shock While Studying Abroad - npr
- List of International Phone Codes by Country
Technology and Sustainability Abroad
- Hostel World - listing of hostels around the world with comments and reviews
- Hostels.com - listing of hostels around the world with comments and reviews
- Hostelz.com - good listing of hostels in the UK and throughout Europe with comments and reviews
Other Travel Tools
Potts, Rolf. Vagabonding: An Uncommon Guide to the Art of Long-Term World Travel. New York, NY: Villard, 2003.
Smith, Alex. Study U Abroad: The 5 Keys to Unlock Your Awesomeness and Transform Your World. 2014.
Steves, Rick. Travel as a Political Act. New York, NY: Nation, 2009.
Williamson, Wendy. Study Abroad 101. Kalamazoo, MI: Agapy Pub., 2004.