I’ve discovered that for me the most difficult thing about studying abroad is finding balance. Here are some tips for students who are studying abroad or want to study abroad in the future!
Balance between being present and communicating with the people you love back home.
Keeping in touch with your family, significant other, and friends is vital when you’re away from home, especially when you're gone for months at a time. It provides a link between your life in your new environment and the life you left behind (and will get back to soon!). Every email, text, and Skype call is so wonderful, and it will help you feel connected to everything going with the home folks, even when you’re thousands of miles away. Still, it’s a sacrifice. And I don’t mean just for you. Sure, you may be taking time out of your day that you could be using to study, see the world, or hang out with your new friends in order to communicate with your old friends. But, your loved ones back home are the ones who are getting up ridiculously early, staying up late, and changing their plans just to communicate with you. They miss you just as much as you miss them, and never take any time you have with them for granted. (Also, try your best not to get angry and upset when technology doesn't work for you; it's nobody's fault. Ben and I have had so many Skype calls where the conversation consisted solely of "What did you say?," "I can't hear you," "Now, I can't even see you,"and "I'm sorry. Can you say that again?" It can get frustrating, but don't take it out of the people you love.)
On the other hand, don't forget to be present in your new place. Don't spend so much of your time trying to reach out to people back home that you miss out on what your new country has to offer. Just remember that your friends and family aren't going to get mad or upset with you because you can't talk to them 24/7. They understand that you are trying to make the most of your time abroad, and they won't be upset with you because you can't talk as often as you planned/want. You'll have plenty of time to tell them all about your adventures when you get back! Still, I would recommend starting a blog for your trip or finding some way to share photos so people back home can be somewhat involved in what you're experiencing, and you won't have to tell everyone what's going on individually.
Balance between travelling and studying.
This is a tough one, especially for someone like me who is (overly) obsessed with grades. Yup, grades are very important, but if grades were absolutely the only thing that mattered, you would just stay at your home university. (A lot of times, credit earned overseas don't affect your official undergrad GPA, but they will be factored in when you are applying for graduate programs.) Studying abroad is about travelling the world and new experiences, as well as school. I'm not saying that you should put school on the back-burner at all, but don't let school become a reason that you miss out on things. For the most part, my strategy has been to work hard (and get ahead) on studying, during the week, so that way when weekend trips come along, you'll be able to go and enjoy them without worrying about school. (Or, if you're like me, with minimal worrying about school.) For instance, I currently have three papers all due on the same day. Given, this day is in two weeks, but I'm trying my best to get ahead and finish early so I won't be rushing to finish them last minute and can travel and see even more of New Zealand, if that possibility arises. (That's actually a good strategy even if you're not studying abroad. Don't procrastinate on assignments. Just don't do it.)
Balance between spending a little money to enjoy some once in a lifetime experiences and saving money.
I'm a bit of a tightwad, and I've definitely had to loosen up a little while in New Zealand. Travelling costs money, and if you're not willing to spend a little, you are going to miss out. True, trips don't have to be expensive to be fun, but even the little costs add up, like the car rental, buying gas, staying in hostels, and food. While some of my favourite trips on this adventure have been super cheap, the bigger, more expensive trips have been amazing. (Did I mention yet that I'm going to Australia in a few weeks? I'm so blessed to have the means to travel to a whole other country while I'm here! Does this make me a world traveler, yet?) Here's a good tip: it's a good idea to go cheap on food. Buying groceries and going out to eat really adds up, so try your best to keep that in check. I'd much rather eat instant noodles and PB&J a couple times a week and be able to spend money on plane and bus tickets than eat out a lot and drain my bank account.
Balance between spending time with the friends you’ve made (that you won’t be seeing for much longer) and having alone time.
Having some time alone is a luxury, and every now and then, it's so nice to curl up in bed with a good book, drink some hot chocolate, and have some quality "me time." But, I must warn you, spending too much time alone can be dangerous. For me, this is when bouts of homesickness start to kick in. When this feeling starts, get out of your room, and go do something. (Go for a run, have a movie night with your friends, or start planning a trip. Just don't get stuck hanging out alone in your room!) It's so easy to feel sorry for yourself when you haven't left your building or accomplished anything all day. Even if it means just going to the library to do homework, try to be around people whenever possible. Here's a thought: hang out with all the friends you've made! You'll only be with these amazing people for a short time, and you should take every opportunity you have to get to know them better. Who knows when you'll see them again after you all go back home? I've made so many great friends from all over the States, and it's so nice to have those connections! So, when given the choice between sitting in your room alone and spending time with your close friends, choose friends.
Ultimately, the trouble is finding balance between every taking amazing opportunity you have left and playing it safe. Always remember that your time abroad is limited, but your adventures shouldn't be. Be thankful for the opportunities you have, and never, ever take them for granted. Studying abroad (and really higher education, in general) is a privilege, not a right. Treat is as such.