Spending a semester abroad: what I would do differently

As you all probably know, I’ve spent a semester abroad in Budapest, Hungary last year. I went there with an Erasmus+ exchange programme and I had a wonderful time exploring the country, learning new things along the way and simply opening myself to new challenges. It was a further step out of my comfort zone, if you will.

While I can honestly say that the time spent there was incredible, I still feel like I could have done some of the things differently if I were to go there now. I don’t want to call it mistakes because I don’t think the connotation of the word fits the situation, so let’s call it observations.

Semester abroad: 8 Things I'd do differently

So what would I do differently if I were to go on my first ever study exchange programme?

​​​​​​​1. I would pack less

Okay, this one is more of a mistake… I read lots of packing guides made by former exchange students but somehow I still managed to overpack. Might as well call me a professional overpacker…

I packed 7 pair of shoes and I probably wore only 4 in total. I had 6 pair of trousers/jeans when in reality I needed only 3. And the list goes on! If I were to go again, I would definitely be more critical about the things that I’m packing for my trip.

I am thinking of writing a blog post on what to pack (knowing me, it would be more about what NOT to pack) for a semester abroad. Would it be something you’d want to read? Let me know!

 2. I would spend more time with locals

It might seem that you will have no choice but to become friends with the locals when you’re going on an exchange program. But in reality, you’re going to be surrounded by other exchange students more than by locals. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad thing. You still get to talk with a variety of people from different cultures and origins and that’s awesome.

But by conversing more with other exchange students who are in the same boat as you, you ought to feel more comfortable and experiment less, if you know what I mean. The best way to understand a culture and the city is by talking with locals, seeing things through their eyes. So if I were to go on an exchange again, I would definitely try to spend even more time with locals and just get a different perspective of the country.

3. I would get a local phone card

Everyone kept telling us to get a local SIM card but me being me and wanting to save money and not spend on such ridiculous things as a SIM car, I thought it would be a good idea to just use my own, Lithuanian card.

My compromise was that I wasn’t actually going to use it much anyway. I was keeping in touch with my family and friends through WhatsApp and Facebook. Also, who sends real texts or calls anymore? You can just FaceTime someone instead.

Also, I had some data with my phone plan that allowed me to use a certain limit of the internet in the European Union. So all was well until the last month kicked in and my data provider started sending me messages that basically said I’m about to get charged extra taxes if I don’t stop using more data abroad than I am in Lithuania.

Apparently, there is a limit of time you can spend using data in another country. Who knew? So, friends, just get a local SIM card. Learn from me.

4. I would go solo

I am THAT person who gets massive anxiety if I need to do something alone. I just can’t help it even through I’m trying to become better at being independent…

This time I went on the exchange with a friend of mine. Don’t get me wrong, I am not regretting any of it and we certainly had an incredible 4 months. However, I do admit that going on an exchange alone and going with someone you trust are two different experiences. Not worse or better but just different.

If I was to go alone, I would have been forced to step out of my comfort zone even more. I would have done some of the things differently and maybe I would have had an entirely different experience.

So if I went again, I would probably push myself more and try doing it all alone. Because that sounds scary to me and one of the goals I have every single year for myself is to do at least one thing that scares me sh*tless.

Semester abroad: 8 Things I'd do differently

5. I would try harder to learn a bit of the language

I know I said I’ll try to learn at least few simple phrases in Hungarian and, in my defence, I did. Kind of.

I know how to say hello, thank you, excuse me, bless you and so on. But I feel like I learned more food product names from our grocery shopping than anything else. While it’s quite cool to know how ‘semolina’ is called in Hungarian (buzadara, for anyone wondering!), I wish I learned a bit more.

I’ve been living in Hungary for 4 months and I had no idea how to say basic, conversation-starting sentences. I mean, how cool it would have been to actually understand a single word our neighbour, a lovely older lady, was trying to say to us.

6. I would explore more from the beginning

Somewhere in the middle of the semester, university happened (read: mid-terms, assignments, no social life whatsoever). After everything died down a little and the first realization of our little adventure coming to the end hit us, we started thinking about all the things that had NOT seen yet or done.

Of course, in the end, we didn’t manage to do and see everything we wanted because we had so little time left. I wish we did all of that instead of planning to do them.

So if you take anything from this post, take this:

If you find yourself saying ‘yeah, we totally should do that!’ and leaving it for later, DO IT NOW. There is a 90% chance you won’t go around doing the thing you want if you don’t do it now.

Semester abroad: 8 Things I'd do differently

7. I would go with no expectations

Now, don’t go thinking that this is about to get super pessimistic. I’d say the best way to go studying abroad or simply travelling is to have ZERO expectations. Not that it will be disappointing or anything, but because you simply cannot predict what will happen there.

During the stay, your expectations are bound to change as you go along, so why have them in the first place? Just be in the moment, enjoy the unknown and stress less about the things you wished you’ve done but ended up not doing.

Honestly, the best experiences I had were the ones where I had no expectations, not even an idea of how it should or would go. And that’s the beauty of life!

8. I would document the moments more

Even though I took hundreds of photos and a few random videos (that will definitely won’t see the public eye!), I wish I’ve done more.

I am such a sentimental person that it can sometimes get a bit too much. That’s why I wish I had written in my journal more, maybe even filmed some of the moments. It would be so nice to look back at it now or even after a few years.

Have you studied abroad? What would you do differently if you could go to college/university again?

Semester abroad: 8 Things I'd do differently

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