Now that my semester abroad has finally come to an end, here are some of the most valuable life lessons I discovered during my time in Europe.
Lesson #1: Learn how to budget like a pro.
Studying abroad is a super-expensive experience, especially if you are planning to live in an expensive city like London. One of the biggest mistakes I made was not financially planning my semester. It's easy to spend lots of money in one go, and it can come as a particularly nasty shock to discover how little money you have left in your account. Creating a basic budget in advance will help you control what you spend on, and limit reckless spending.
Lesson #2: Save money to spend money
It can be very tempting to arrive in a new city and immediately head for the shopping malls and expensive (pointless) souvenir shops. Hold on to your cash and save it to travel, to gain new culinary experiences, and do everything that the city you're visiting is known for!
Lesson #3: Plan, but don't over-plan.
It can be a little overwhelming to discover how much there is that you want to do and then realize you have limited time to do it all because of classes. Do not panic! Take a day or two to decide what activities and places are most important to you, and create a tentative calendar. Consider including friends in your plans-- it's always fun to go as a group!
Lesson #4: Understand your visa (and other legal matters).
I have an Indian passport, which means I have to apply for a visa in the majority of the countries I visit. However, visa rules differ for passports based on citizenship, so make sure you understand which travel documents you need. As I was doing an internship this semester, I had to apply for a U.K. General 4 Tier visa, which allowed me to work legally. However, there were many restrictions which made it hard for me to apply for a Schengen visa (to travel around Europe). Planning in advance may have made my visa application process a lot easier. So don't wait until last minute!
Lesson #5: Do not pick the first apartment you tour!
If you are studying abroad by yourself, you may not have a group of friends with whom you want to stay. Don't panic-- there will be many others like you who will also be on the lookout. One mistake I made this semester was rushing into signing a housing lease with my flatmates. We picked the first place we toured, and although our apartment was nice, there were also many problems with lighting and water supply which we ran into throughout our time in London. It's always better to explore your options before finalizing housing.
Lesson #6: Keep your parents/guardians in the loop.
Don't forget to call your family once in a while to share updates with them. If they are supporting you financially, keep track of your expenses so they know where their money is going (this will allow you to keep monitor how much you're spending too!). Be thankful that they have given you this incredible opportunity!
Lesson #7: Don't waste a single day in bed, unless you physically can't move.
This is pretty self-explanatory.
Lesson #8: Don't forget that you are here to study.
It's easy to abandon all academic responsibility and focus only on traveling and cultural immersion. However, keep in mind that you are still paying for your classes, so the best thing you can do is continue learning in the classroom. It's possible to have fun while maintaining your grades!
Lesson #9: Traveling and culinary experiences > Shopping for materialistic things!
Stuff doesn't last forever, but memories stay in your mind forever! Invest in new experiences, you will not regret it.
Lesson #10: If you're doing an internship (and I highly recommend it!), use the opportunity to build your network.
Besides this, don't just do your assigned tasks. Observe the people and movement around you. This doesn't just apply to the workplace. One of my professors at the Syracuse University London center once told us, "Don't listen to music on public transportation. Instead, listen to people's conversations."
Lesson #11: Keep track of your experiences.
Document everything, whether it be through a travel blog, a diary, photographs and more -- you might even get an unexpected 'Leadership' award like I did!
Lesson #12: Appreciate the staff at your study-abroad center.
These people work extremely hard to plan trips and experiences for you. Make sure you let them know you appreciate them and don't be afraid to step into the office and have a conversation or two! Some of my best experiences this semester only happened thanks to the SU London staff, so shoutout to them all!
Lesson #13: Make the most out of your experience, you will most likely never get this opportunity again.
Now go forth and conquer!