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Study Abroad Tips From Your Drexel Classmates

May 08, 2017

James Sato on study abroad in Iceland.

Drexel University mechanical engineering student James Sato spent one of his four study abroad trips in Iceland.

Studying abroad is a college highlight for many Drexel University students — a chance to get an entirely different and entirely unique educational experience, all while exploring new places, meeting new people and learning a new language. DrexelNow asked students who have studied abroad what advice they would share with fellow Dragons, and their responses are included below.

On nerves:

“Most of my nerves channeled into excitement because I was going to a place I had only dreamed about and seen through the internet,” said Jada Gossett, a College of Arts and Sciences psychology major who went to Seoul National University in South Korea last fall. “I thought about all the exciting stuff I could do once I made it there and I wasn’t exactly nervous anymore.”

“People tell you that you can only become better by stretching outside of you comfort zone, so I transformed the nerves I had into excitement to discover something new,” said James Sato, a mechanical engineering major in the College of Engineering who studied abroad in Hong Kong, Japan, Italy and Iceland. “Every time I travel now, my nerves are drowned out by the excitement I have to discover new and interesting sites and events.”

“You get over your nerves pretty quickly because most of the exchange students are in a similar boat,” said Harnaik Sembhi, a finance major in the LeBow College of Business who studied in Hong Kong last spring. “You end up just working through it together which makes it a lot easier.”

“To overcome my nerves, I just read as much as I could about the country and culture I would be living in,” said Jane Tong, a biological sciences major in the College of Arts and Sciences who studied health care in Costa Rica this winter. “I actually found the adjustment period was pretty quick when I arrived. After some time, I also found that what I thought would be a long period of time passed by way too quickly, and I wished I could stay longer.”

On language barriers:

“My biggest challenge was going to a country where I did not speak the language,” said Danielle Long, a chemical engineering major in the College of Engineering who studied at Ruhr University in Bochum, Germany. “This challenge was made easier by using Google Translate and spending time with German friends. There are so many reasons to make friends with the locals, and the language barrier is one of them. When you have a friend that speaks the language they become your best friend and translator all in one.”

“I wish I learned some of the language before I got there,” said Sembhi. “It just makes everything a lot easier when you are settling in and adjusting to life in a new country.”

“I was pleasantly surprised that people were really open to talking to me because I’m a foreigner and conversational at Korean, so that helped a lot in making friends,” said Gossett.

On friends:

“I had to somehow curate my own group of friends,” said Gossett. “Between my classes, a little social media intervention, and hanging out with people that my friends had met in their own exchange university, I eventually settled into having mostly Korean friends.”

“The best part of studying abroad was making friends,” said Long. “I had so much fun and learned so much about German culture. I loved my time studying abroad so much that I went back for a six-month internship.” 

“I never thought that I would know people from so many different countries,” said Sembhi. “Even now I keep in touch with many of them and it’s good to know that I have people to show me around in these cool places. What I took away from the trip is that you should go into it headfirst and do everything possible in the time you have, because you never know if you will be able to go back.”

On new experiences:

“It really exposes you to experiences you would never otherwise encounter, and gives you a small taste of just how big and diverse the world is,” said Tong. “Don't let any fears or worries hold you back — if your experience is at all like mine, you'll find that the adjustment is not too difficult and you'll appreciate a new, albeit temporary, way of life.”

On food:

“I loved the fact I could get a full meal for the equivalent of $5 and it was actually healthy and filling,” said Gossett. “There was this little restaurant near my apartment (they’re called “matjibs,” basically the equivalent of a mom-and-pop shop) that made the best kimchi stew. I could never again find kimchi stew made like how they made it.”

On culture shock:

“I think the reason I never felt culture shock was because I had German friends who were there to help me from the beginning,” said Long. “There is so much you can learn from talking to people from other countries. It makes the world feel small.”

On spontaneity:

“Say yes to as many experiences as you responsibly can,” said Sato. “Most of the experiences I had while abroad simply came about because I was open to experiencing something. A random conversation I had with a local history club in Japan led me to a grassroots hiking group that explored the local landmarks of the area. People are surprisingly more connected than you think.”

“Do not plan too much,” said Sembhi. “Sometimes you end up doing the best crazy and unforgettable things just by exploring and not knowing what you are looking for. Leave some time to explore.”

On education:

“Make sure you are as organized as possible with your coursework, both in class and on your plan of study,” said Sato. “It was only by having a very well maintained plan of study that I have been able to study abroad four times while also completing a BS/MS degree in mechanical engineering on a five-year schedule.”

“When it comes to balancing work and fun you should remember that you are here for school and not for a vacation,” said Sembhi. “What I did was focus on school during the week. That is where I studied and went to classes. Fridays, weekends and breaks were the times I traveled — that way I would avoid being behind on my classes while still making the most of the experience.”

“Upon returning to the U.S., I was surprised by how many intangible lessons I had learned even outside of the classroom,” said Tong. “I feel like I definitely gained a new sense of independence through my time abroad, and also gained a new appreciation for some of the everyday conveniences we take for granted.”

On money:        

“Save as much money as you can, because you will probably spend all of it and still have a month left in the semester,” said Gossett. “Even if you say you won’t spend that much, things will come up and it’s just nice to not have to cry to your parents over a 13-hour difference about how you will either pay rent or eat.”

On homesickness and finding new homes:

“The trip taught me a lot about myself,” said Gossett. “I never imagined I could find somewhere that felt like home almost 7,000 miles away from my hometown.”

“The hardest part is saying goodbye and taking your first steps,” said Long. “Once I got to Germany, I loved it. I never once felt homesick during my study abroad and wasn’t ready to come home. I think the key is to keep busy.”

“I was surprised by how similar, yet different, all of our cultures around the world are,” said Sato. “Every place I went to welcomed me in their unique way: enjoying afternoon tea in Hong Kong, going out to festivals in Japan, sharing dinner in a villa in the Venice Lagoon, and exploring nature in Iceland. It is amazing to see how open people are to meeting with you, especially if you come in with a sincere desire to understand their culture and way of life.”