10 Mistakes I Made While Studying Abroad

Mistakes I made and things I would change about my study abroad experience

St. Andrews Castle Course Golf

View of St. Andrews from the Castle Course

I can safely say that I didn’t leave St. Andrews with any regrets. I met new people, traveled and golfed just about every free minute I had, and actually learned a ton of cool stuff in my classes. However, there are a few things I would change if I were to do it again and here they are 10 Mistakes I Made While Studying Abroad – St. Andrews edition.

1. I didn’t buy an outlet adapter beforehand

I’ve mentioned this about a million times on the blog, but it’s because I literally can’t emphasize it enough – buy an outlet adapter BEFORE you leave. After I landed in Scotland and finally dropped my bags at St. Andrews, I went to go Skype my Mom, who had probably been glued to her computer for the last 10 hours, to let her know my plane didn’t crash somewhere over the Atlantic. Of course, my laptop battery was dead and, because I hadn’t bought an adapter ahead of time, I had to beg every American student I saw to borrow theirs.

2. I packed too much

I’m sure over-packing is a common regret of most students that study abroad. The only reason your suitcase should be packed to the brink of explosion is that you plan on leaving a lot of things behind when you come home, e.g. towels, blankets, toiletries – basically anything that you’ll be able to replace cheaply when you get back.

As far as clothes go, if you don’t wear it now, you probably won’t wear it abroad either, not to mention you’ll probably be buying some new clothes over the course of the semester or year. Check out these posts on how to pack when you’re going abroad – 2 Suitcases + 1 Year = Study Abroad Packing List and How To Fit Your Life Into Two Suitcases.

3. I booked my flight with the wrong airline

I booked my flight to and from Scotland with Continental Airlines, and honestly there was nothing wrong with the flight itself. However, I brought my golf clubs as a third bag and got charged a pretty hefty fee. Had I flown with British Airways, apparently there’s a possibility I could’ve taken my clubs for free and saved about $300. Really research flights, it will pay off. As always, I recommend going through STA Travel because they specialize in student travel, or there’s the ever trusty Expedia.com.

4. I didn’t put something easy to identify on my luggage

This is a small change that would’ve made a huge difference. Airports are large, crowded, and hectic – you don’t want to have to fight a mob to spot your bag. Put something massive, easily identifiable, and of course legal on it. I’m not talking just a giant pink band, I mean a giant pink band with purple dots and  your name in capital letters written all over it. Don’t worry about looking ridiculous; you’ll never see those people from the airport again.

5. I bought a camera with a low optical zoom and no panoramic setting

For some reason, everyone – myself included – is only worried about megapixels. Unless you’re going to be making massive posters with all of your study abroad pictures, 12 to 14 megapixels – the standard on just about every camera these days – is fine. The most important feature I neglected was the OPTICAL ZOOM, as opposed to the digital zoom. Ideally, the higher the better, but I would definitely shoot for at least 7x.

The panoramic setting is not a necessity, but it will take your pictures to a whole new level. You’re going to be in some of the coolest places in the world, you want your pictures to do your travels justice. Check out this camera that I use and recommend.

6. In the beginning, I only hung around with kids from Holy Cross

I was in a dorm with 4 other people from my school in the U.S., so I made the amateur mistake of waiting about 3 months to go mingle with anyone else. The sad thing is, I was in a freshman dorm so everyone there was new and looking to make new friends, and I could’ve had new friends right off the bat. Don’t be afraid to socialize! Meeting new friends is one of the treasured opportunities of studying abroad.

7. I should’ve done more traveling around Scotland

I did more traveling than I could’ve imagined while I was abroad. And while I did make it to a few different parts of Scotland, I definitely should’ve seen more. The farthest reaches of Scotland were at most only a few hours bus ride away, and if I could do it again I would take a lot more weekend trips to explore places outside of St. Andrews. You chose a particular country for a reason; you should really make an effort to see everything it has to offer.

8. I didn’t follow “local” sports enough

In Scotland, it happened to be soccer and rugby. Sports play just as big of a role in the social life of people from other countries as they do in the U.S., sometimes more. I wish I had taken a few Saturdays and gone to the pub to get in on the action instead of always playing golf.  Grab a beer, meet your friends, pick a team, and have a good time.

9. I didn’t get a part time job

View Of St. Andrews 18th Hole From Jigger Inn

Myself, Stephen and Tris (who was brave enough to take me out on the Old Course)

For reasons I’ll explain later, I could’ve made money without a job. However, for right now, I’ll say getting a part time job is a great idea. You’ll probably only have classes a few hours a week and I can bet you won’t be doing much school work in your off time. A part time job for say 10 hours a week (a couple 5 hour shifts, or a few 3-4 hour shifts) will probably cover all of your expenses for weekend festivities (beers, dinner out, etc.) and will allow you to spend more money on other things that are important to you. Depending on what you do, it’s also a great way to get immersed in local culture.

10. I didn’t do a good job of keeping in touch with the people I met

It’s probably the thing I’m most sad about, but it’s something I’m determined to fix. I wouldn’t have experienced half of what I did without everyone I met at St. Andy’s, most importantly my academic family and my closest friends in the dorm. Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have even made it on to the Old Course as early as I did without my friend Tris taking me with him even though at that point I sucked. There are so many ways to keep in touch with your friends who either go to a different school in the US or who live abroad, don’t let those friendships fade.

I’m lucky because having already made these mistakes, I can avoid them when I study abroad in China.  If you haven’t studied abroad yet, keep my mistakes in mind when you do.

If you have any other questions or comments please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!

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  • Anonymous

    Great advice. I have two teenage sons, and I hope they will have the opportunity to study abroad.

  • Thanks! I hope they do as well, its an experience of a lifetime.

  • Michael

    You suggest getting a part-time job. Is this really feasible? How would you go about getting one? I’m going to Sevilla, Spain so I also have a language barrier, not being fluent in Spanish.

  • Hi Michael, If getting a part-time job is something you’re genuinely interested in doing, I think it’s very feasible. As far as barriers like language, there’s always a way around them. I almost applied to work at a local bus station in St. Andrews (wash buses, load luggage, etc.) which would have required pretty little social interaction with customers. I currently have friends in China that work in an office that helps Chinese students write cover letters and/or college essays before coming to the U.S so speaking in English is actually preferred. As far as finding a job, I just walked around town and if a store was hiring, I went in and asked about it. I was upfront about the fact that I would only be there for 9 months so if they were looking for someone permanent, I wasn’t their guy. I also found that resumes tend to be structured differently in other countries, so doing some research ahead of time or asking some of your new friends at your host school how they would suggest organizing one is always a great idea. Hope this helps!

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  • WisconsinForeigner

    I know it’s kind of a late response but I just stumbled upon this post. I’m currently studying abroad in Spain right now (actually ironically going to travel to Sevilla in 5 days), and the easiest option for a part time job would be bartending. Especially in Valladolid where I’m currently studying, they have all of the foreign students here bartending because I think it draws in customers. You just have to have the basics of the language down to be able to get trained in and hear what it is the customers want.

  • Hey Walt, you’re welcome! You’re article was a great read, and definitely worth retweeting. It’s amazing what you find out about yourself, who you meet, and how you learn to adapt when you study abroad, especially in China!

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  • andreabouchaud

    So true! There are so many things that I would do differently now if I were to study abroad again. I too did not spend enough time traveling in France although I did an ok amount- also doesn’t help that I didn’t budget for travel. One of the things that I most regret was that I did not interact with the French students as much as I should have. I’m not even sure why anymore- maybe fear of making a mistake in French I suppose. Great post and things everyone can be sure to learn from.