Recent Grad Shares Tips for Successful Study Abroad

By guest blogger, Kelly Loughlin

For a recent college graduate, I believe my international experience is fairly unique. Originally from upstate New York, I lived in Hong Kong for twelve years, studied abroad in Shanghai during university and have traveled to more than 25 countries across North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and Australia. Like many young professionals, I am interested in pursuing an international career and I believe one great way to gain international exposure is through studying abroad. I studied abroad in Shanghai, China, and took advanced Chinese language classes at Fudan University. I had a wonderful experience and I wanted to share four suggestions I think were fundamental in making the most out of my experience:

Language and interacting with the local community: Chances are, you are going to a country where English is not the native language. Therefore, it’s the perfect opportunity to improve your foreign language skills. Definitely try to get over the initial fear of making mistakes. I know it’s easier said than done, but I found people were more appreciative of your trying to speak their language, than focusing on a grammar mistake or mispronouncing a word. And who knows, you may even surprise yourself every now and again –  I was able to successfully get my internet fixed in my apartment without using a single word in English.

Have an open-mind: You will be in a new place, so you are bound to try new things. During these new and exciting adventures, keep an open mind and stay positive. Even if things don’t go as planned or it wasn’t the best experience, it will sure be memorable. So did I try eat chicken feet? Yes. Did I get completely lost trying to find a temple in Hangzhou? Yes. Did I tackle China’s crowded train system? Yes. Sing karaoke? Yes. And I wouldn’t trade a single minute of it.

Stay active and healthy: Living in a completely different country and everything being so “new” can take a toll on you mentally and physically. So eat healthy and stay active, maybe even incorporate a new activity. I enrolled in tai chi classes, a form a martial arts, and while I was initially a bit hesitant, I’m really glad I did it. It was a fun way to exercise and a great opportunity to learn something unique to the culture.

Explore: As much fun as it is to explore your “new home,” take advantage of your location and time by taking some mini excursions. If possible, take a week or weekend to explore other nearby cities and towns. During my time in Shanghai, I spent a week in Beijing days before the 2008 Olympics  and also took a weekend trip to beautiful Hangzhou. I’ve added some pictures of these trips, including the Great Wall and the famous West Lake in Hangzhou.

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I think that a student’s study abroad experience can provide a nice foundation for their future international career. While it is easy to just go where all your friends are going or choose the most popular destination, I highly suggest choosing a program based on what is important to you and your future career goals. For me, it was language – I knew I wanted a program that offered an intensive language track, but there are others options – if you are interested in gaining exposure to the working world, choose a program with an internship option, or if mixing with the locals and local culture is important to you, find a program that offers staying with a host family or local college student. I believe the study abroad experience is a great building block for developing a deeper understanding and appreciation of world cultures and plays a role in becoming a more global-minded citizen of the world.  Safe travels!

Kelly Loughlin is currently a Human Resources & Recruiting Coordinator at StumbleUpon in San Francisco. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Asian Studies from the University of Denver. In her spare time she enjoys cooking, painting, a good cup of coffee and any opportunity to travel.

3 Comments on “Recent Grad Shares Tips for Successful Study Abroad

  1. This was a thoughtful, wise reflection! I particularly liked the fact that you were able to turn “mistakes” or “mishaps” into fun, memorable learning experiences! Although those moments are some of the most uncomfortable when abroad, they teach you so much about the culture and make for great conversation when you return! The only thing I would add is the importance of journaling and memory-keeping while you are abroad. While overseas it always seems like there is something else fun to do and that there will be plenty of time to record your memories when you get home. But it is a very rich and rewarding experience to honestly journal your feelings and experiences as you go along your trip so that you can see just how far you have come and how much you have learned in a short period of time. Thanks for taking the time to share with the readers here. I will be assigning this blog to my international business undergraduate students!

    • Thanks for the tip on journaling; many students — and international workers — can benefit from it. It’s amazing to look back and reflect, after some time, on the experience. I also appreciate your recommending this blog to students!

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