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8 Study Abroad Mistakes to Avoid for College Students

study abroad mistakes

Americans, unfortunately, have a bad reputation for being ignorant of the world. If you have plans on studying abroad this semester and don’t want to feed into that stereotype, we’ve got you covered.

Studying abroad is bound to be one of the best experiences of your life, but embarrassing slip-ups are bound to happen.

We compiled a list of eight different study abroad mistakes to avoid for college students and how you could prevent them from happening:

Mistake #1: Not Keeping Up With the Locals

Every new country you go to, be sure to do a little research you have at least somewhat of a basic understanding of that country’s cultures. Like we said earlier, Americans have a bad reputation for being ignorant of the world. Let’s not feed into that stereotype.

Educate yourself on where you will be living, along with every place you plan on visiting. Learn about the location, the geography, the food, the language, the people, and the culture. It is crucial to learn their ways of life and etiquette to avoid any cultural faux pas. 

For example, tipping is customary and standard in America, but it is actually seen as a sign of disrespect in Japan. Excellent service is considered the standard, and tips are viewed as rude and, in most cases, turned down!

This is one of those study abroad mistakes that may seem like common sense, but many students abroad often forget about how important it is to educate themselves on local customs.

Mistake #2: Carrying a card instead of cash

For many Americans, failing to adapt to a cash-based society is one of the biggest mistakes you can make. When traveling, cash is king. Banks usually have hefty international fees for their credit and debit cards that sneak up on even the most budget-friendly traveler.

Try to withdraw lots of cash at once to save some money on those international ATM fees.

Mistake #3: Not Bringing A Portable Phone Charger

For your peace of mind as well as your personal safety, remember to pack a portable phone charger. In the event of an emergency, you need to make sure your phone always has enough battery to send or receive a few messages or connect you to Wifi. 

Keeping an eye on your battery level sounds easy enough, but when you add the fact that you will be most likely taking a lot of photos and posting to social media, the chances of you running down your battery will increase. 

We know you can buy one while you’re abroad, but wouldn’t you much rather your time be spent sightseeing than on a silly errand you could have gotten done back home?

Mistake #4: Neglecting Your Schoolwork

While the “abroad” part sounds much for exciting than “studying” when you think of “studying abroad,” it would be a huge mistake to fall behind on classwork. We get that it may be tempting to ditch a few lectures to extend a weekend trip, but you will more likely than not regret falling behind on your schoolwork if you do decide to slack off.

Depending on your school’s or program’s policy, they could send you home for failing a class or make you re-take it. There are many benefits of studying abroad, but don’t put yourself in a position that compromises the academic aspect of your experience.

Neglecting your schoolwork is one of the biggest and costly study abroad mistakes you could make.

Mistake #5: Sticking Only With Your Group

It is common for US students studying abroad to stick together since you are all collectively experiencing something new, and their familiarity is comfortable. Ask yourself, did you choose to study abroad because it was the “comfortable” choice?

Befriend locals or other international students so you can enhance your cultural perspectives and broaden your global network.

Also, take some time to step off to the side and experience traveling alone. When you travel in the future, you’re not always going to have a group tagging along with you. Better to spend some time traveling solo now, so the idea of being alone doesn’t scare you out of traveling in the future.

Mistake #6: An “English Only” Mindset

One of the biggest pet peeves against American students studying abroad, and Americans in general, is our “English Only” mindset. While English is the most widely-learned language in the world, it is rude to assume or expect someone to speak it.

Remember, you are in someone else’s country, and their language must be treated with respect. While it is not necessary to learn the language of where you are visiting, picking up a few phrases is key to gaining respect with the locals. Especially in France!

One of the best phrases to learn and practice in another country’s language is, “Hello! Do you speak English?”

The mere effort of you saying that phrase will garner their respect and an “Only a little bit” response versus a dead end “No.” Your effort will be seen as a sign of respect and get you further than most of your classmates.

Mistake #7: Forgetting To Document Your Experiences

This doesn’t mean go selfie-crazy every photo opportunity you get. We mean getting at least one good photo with some of the people you meet or the places you’ve visited. Doing this allows you to have a physical image for when you think about these memories later on and may need something to refer to.

Don’t forget to print out the photos and write on the back of them while your memory is still fresh. This is so when you come across the photo, you won’t be asking yourself, “Who and why did I take a photo with this person/these people?”

We won’t blame you for taking photos of your food either, I mean how often do you get the chance to go to Naples and eat authentic Neopolitan pizza?

Mistake #8: Not Fully Immersing Yourself Into the Experience

One of the biggest study abroad mistakes you could make is failing to immerse yourself in the experience. When you spend your time trying to connect back home, you miss out on all the opportunities to experience the new culture around you.

Americans do this by staying glued to their phones, engaging with their friends back home on social media. They also do this by sticking to their comfort zones and letting fear reign. This is the time not to hold back and conquer those old phobias of yours.

It’s normal (and bound to happen) to miss your friends and family and life back home. Though that shouldn’t let you stop your opportunity to explore otherwise, what’s the point of choosing to study abroad?

Study Abroad Mistakes: Prevention Over Cure

If you keep our list of study abroad mistakes in mind, studying abroad will be one of your most memorable and exciting experiences of your life. Let’s break that nasty stereotype the world has against Americans, one show of respect at a time.

Check out our website for books about studying abroad to learn more!

About the Author

Christopher Manns

I was born in the UK, grew up in Canada and have lived in the USA since the 90s. I love my family, water sports, ice hockey, skiing and soccer. When I'm not helping people save money on textbooks, I'm travelling with my wonderful family and playing sports.