I’ve had the opportunity to participate in two of UMD’s short term study abroad programs during my time here: one for a month in Salamanca, Spain, and the other for 2 weeks in various cities in Italy. Both of these experiences were the most incredible of my life, but there was one major downside to both: I didn’t have nearly enough time.
Short term programs are great for many reasons, but they don’t leave you with much time to participate in all the things that add richness to the experience. However, there are ways to fully immerse yourself in the culture and get the most you possibly can out of your study abroad experience, even in such a short period of time.
Use Local Transportation
Walk. Walk everywhere. Many cities outside of the U.S. (in Europe, at least) are made to be much more walkable than they are here, and people certainly take advantage of that. Walking around allows you to experience the city the way locals do, and you get to see things you wouldn’t see if you traveled by car or other means of transportation.
While I do think walking is the best way to get around, checking out the public transportation system the city offers can also be fun. Just make sure to watch out for pickpockets…and don’t put anything valuable in your back pockets or a bag that rests behind you!
Explore & Get Lost
There really is no substitute for experiencing foreign cities as they light up after the sun sets. You can walk around and see where people are hanging out or find something to eat. While you’re wandering during the day, check out the different shops around the city. And I don’t mean just the tacky tourist-y shops – go into the stores the people who live there visit, and see what interesting things you can find. For example, the way they weigh and buy fruit is different in Spain than it is here. Even something as small as that adds to your experience.
Talk to Locals
While this may seem intimidating, particularly when in a country with a different native language, it’s totally worth it. I have so many great memories of conversations (and pictures taken) with the people I met in Italy and Spain. Talk to them about their culture, and tell them about yours. Ask them for recommendations on where to eat, what to do, and what the must-do experiences to have before you leave are. Ask for directions, and do your best to follow them…but always carry a map with you, for when you inevitably get lost. And on that note, make sure you know how to read a map before you leave the States!
Try all the things!
Or at least do as many as you can in two, three, or four weeks. Find out what foods that area of the world/country is known for (Salamanca loves its cured meats, and Italy loves, well, pasta and pizza), and try as many of them as possible. If there are any events or celebrations going on while you’re there, check them out. On our first day in Salamanca, we witnessed the annual Procesión del Corpus Christi. Later, we listened to musicians performing in the plazas. If you have the opportunity to take advantage of similar extra opportunities, definitely do so!
Journal, take pictures, and make all the memories you can.
One thing I didn’t do much of my first go around but chose to do my second was to journal. I already took a ridiculous amount of pictures, but pictures can’t give you as much detail as a verbal description of what you did and how you felt. I look back on my journal from Italy and it instantly brings back all the memories the pictures are unable to. While it might feel like a bit of a chore at the time, you’ll appreciate it later as the memories begin to fade.
The main piece of advice I can give you is if you’re thinking of studying abroad, do it, and if you’re not thinking of studying abroad, think about it. No one ever regrets studying abroad, but they do regret not doing it. It’s scary to venture outside of your comfort zone, but if you do, studying abroad will certainly be one of the most incredible experiences of your life.
Of Possible Interest:
- Career Development & Study Abroad
- Abroad Adventures (all of our blog posts related to going abroad)
- All Things International (our Pinterest board)
- Linking Undergraduate International Experiences to Your Future Career
All photos taken by Katie on her travels.