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Mistakes to Avoid When Studying Abroad

27th April 2017 Posted by: Kate Istead

EVERYDAY life is full of awkward moments for most of us, but for international students, in a new country, embarrassing slipups are far more common. Here are some mistakes to avoid when studying abroad:

Not double-checking your flights before you book them

It’s important to check the dates on your airline reservations before you book. Some countries use different conventions for dating – m/d/y vs. d/m/y – and if booking with a foreign website, you might end up missing your flight and your first day of university. It’s also important to check your destination; Milan, a Dutch student, learned this the hard way. Planning on travelling to Australia for a working holiday, he didn’t realise his mistake until he arrived in Canada and was headed to Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Packing too much or inappropriately

While your move might be by car, you’re much more likely to be packing up and heading off to education abroad on an airplane. Therefore, packing too much or packing the wrong things is a big concern. You probably don’t need seven different curling irons that won’t convert to local voltage, 18 pairs of strappy sandals in snowy Estonia or your 10 favourite novels (let’s be honest, will you even have time to read for pleasure with all that coursework?). That said; don’t forget to pack a few meaningful, non-essential items to remind you of home.

Spending all your time connected to life back home

One of the biggest mistakes you can make while studying abroad is failing to immerse yourself in the experience. When I moved to Switzerland to study, one of my friends had everything from Kraft Dinner to party wigs sent over from her family back home in the US. Another spent all their time online, engaging only with people from home via social media. Instead of actually having personal interactions and exploring the country, the food and the culture with the rest of us, they were locked back in the life they came from. It makes me wonder if, after the year was over, these friends can even find any local memories to look back on. While you might miss your friends, family and life back home, don’t let that stop your day-to-day experience or you’ll be missing out on that too.

Forgetting to double check important documents

Remember, especially when filling out official forms or sending email, to double check what you’ve done – it could mean the difference between getting your visa accepted or rejected! Alan, a student from University of Sheffield, has an embarrassing example of this. Instead of hitting ‘reply’ to an important email about graduation robes from his university, Alan hit ‘reply all’, sending his desperate email appeal to all 5,000 of his graduating class, who were more than happy to have a little fun at his expense.

Not learning about your study destination before you arrive

It’s easy to assume we know something about a country, especially if that country has a culture seemingly similar to our own back home, but it’s important to be broadly aware of cultural differences. Orgil Batzorig, a Mongolian student in America, found out the hard way that Americans don’t share the same appreciation for sharing as he was familiar with.

Weather can also have a big impact on your experience and if you’ve showed up in South America with only shorts and t-shirts expecting it to be hot year round, the altitude might have you scrambling for alpaca socks and sweaters.

And one mistake you can’t avoid…

While there are many gaffes you can prepare for and prevent, there is one particular mistake you are bound to make: confusing language. While doing an in-country practicum in Tanzania for his Masters in Sustainable Development from SIT (School for International Training), George’s parents came to visit. His father, trying to show appreciation for the local culture and language, would say “Jamba” to everyone he met – not realising the Swahili word for hello is “Jambo”. “Jamba” is in fact the Swahili word for fart…

Now you know what not to do, check out our Study Abroad Bucket List to see what you should do.


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