Why get involved in your host country while studying abroad?
The key to a fulfilling study abroad experience is to become involved in the community where you’ll be spending the next several weeks to months.
Study abroad is a time to learn, grow, and discover who you are, and having an enriching experience will aid in all of those things. And getting involved in the community is a great way to make friends and immerse yourself in the local culture.
How to get involved while studying abroad?
If you’re unsure of how to jumpstart your immersion into your new host city, no worries. Here are six ways that you can easily get involved while studying abroad and quickly make your host country your new home.
1. Take unique courses.
One of the great things studying abroad is it provides an opportunity to earn college credit for courses that may not be offered at your home university. Some of the more unique classes that students have taken include: Peoples of the Amazon in Brazil, Buddhism Studies in India, China, or Thailand, Holocaust Studies in Poland, or Tracing your Family Genealogy in Ireland.
When planning your courses, also consider taking local cultural courses, such as cooking or dance lessons. These types of courses may be available at your home university, but it will be so much more immersive to learn it from locals in the country it originates in.
Many study abroad programs will also offer field studies, which provide the ability to earn credit while you explore the cultural, historical, and natural features of the region you’re studying in through excursions combined with academic components. Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and explore a course that you’d never get the chance to take at your home university.
“I was able to take courses in Brazilian Anthropology and Culture, Capoeira (Brazilian martial art), Surf, and Portuguese language that gave me great insight into diverse aspects of Brazilian culture. The program also coordinated an optional trip to Curitiba and Foz do Iguaçu and several day trips and hikes around the island that served to show foreign students the beauty of Brazil while providing a chance for interacting with Brazilians to practice the language.” Cecilio Moreno, USAC Florianopolis alum
2. Seek out internship and volunteer opportunities.
The most direct and impactful way to get involved in your host community is to volunteer or participate in an internship during your study abroad experience. Most study abroad programs will offer internship opportunities for college credit, but if you’re just looking to give back during your time abroad consider volunteering with a local organization. Prerequisites to volunteer is easier in some countries than others, but if you work with your study abroad program provider, resident director, or the local consulate, you can find an opportunity that’s right for you.
“I had an internship in the hospital with the local orthopedic surgeon, and was able to experience many surgeries as well as how the Costa Rican healthcare system truly works. I strongly recommend an internship.” -- Chase, USAC San Ramon alum
[KEEP READING: 6 Benefits of Volunteering While Studying Abroad]
3. Get a language partner or local buddy.
When you study abroad in a country where English is not the native language, your study abroad program or the university abroad will most likely offer the ability to have a language partner. These are local students who are interested in practicing English and meeting international students. Language partners are a great way to make local friends, practice speaking, and get to know the city. A good language partner will not only help you learn the language, but will show you all the secret spots around town!
If you’re studying abroad in an English-speaking country, most study abroad programs will have a similar buddy or mentor program where you can meet a local student who will help orient you to the university, city, and surrounding areas.
“USAC helped organize an intercambio language exchange program that helped with making local friends and immersing into the culture. It was a great way to practice speaking Spanish and to get a better sense of the culture from the eyes of a Spanish peer.” Jamie L., USAC Alicante alumna
4. Participate in local events and activities.
No matter what time of year you go abroad, you’re likely to be overseas during a festival or popular event. Many of these events provide the opportunity for international students to participate beyond being a spectator. When will you ever have the chance to say you submitted a film to an international film festival Ireland or competed in a cooking competition in Thailand? Some of the most popular international festivals that study abroad students commonly participate in include: the Galway Arts Festival, Carnival in South America, Las Fallas in Valencia, Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Thailand, and the Orange Throwing Battle in Italy, to name a few.
"I participated in Lyon International events, which turned into some of my favorite memories in Lyon. In January we were hosted for a night of wine, cheese, and dancing, which is where I learned that these three foods are considered France's "Holy Trinity" of the table. In May, the group took us on a dinner cruise on the rivers, allowing us to take in the beauty of the city as day turned to night. On the evening before my flight home to the U.S., I attended an Olympique Lyonnais soccer game, realizing that while the French and American definitions of “football” might be different, our team spirits are one and the same." - Mary Kate, USAC Lyon alumna
[KEEP READING: How to Make the Most of Study Abroad]
5. Get involved on campus.
Just like universities in the U.S., foreign universities have a variety of clubs, organizations, and intramural sports that students can get involved in. Many universities will offer specific activities for international students as a way to help integrate them with local students. Joining clubs and organizations that align with your interests offer a unique opportunity to meet and interact with local students.
“My program was with other US students but our classes were on campus of a Chilean university. Because of that we had access to all the clubs that the regular Chilean students had access to. I found a salsa club that met every Friday and learned how to dance through that. Once school was out of session, they introduced me to a salsa class and group that met up and danced twice a week, and then on the weekends we went to salsatecas to dance more. It was the best part of my trip by far. I fell in love with the dance and Chilean culture.” Hannah Latimer, USAC Santiago alumna
6. Work with your study abroad provider.
The quickest way to get involved in your host country during study abroad is to work with your study abroad program provider. They will have resources and tips that can help you fulfill any opportunities abroad that you may be looking for.
Before you choose a program and head abroad, research the different immersion activities and opportunities offered by different study abroad providers, and then pick an organization that will provide you with the experience that you’re looking for. Every study abroad provider will offer different courses and experiences, so keep your study abroad goals in mind when you’re searching for the perfect study abroad provider.
“The program staff were like our second family, always looking out for our well-being and trying to make the most of our experience. The program directors did everything they could to get us the best internships, field trips, and group events.” Maria Jacob, USAC Chiang Mai alumna
Don’t just get involved, get immersed!
Don’t be afraid to jump head first into your study abroad experience. While there’s a lot to take in when you first get abroad, if you throw yourself into the opportunities available and are adventurous with trying new things, you’re sure to have an authentic and unforgettable experience.
Haven’t found a program yet? Find the perfect one now.
This article was contributed by University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC). USAC is a non-profit consortium of U.S. universities that collaborate to offer affordable, high-quality, academic study abroad programs. Together, these universities work to provide students with the opportunity to immerse in the culture, history, and academics of another country. Each program is designed to help you grow into an engaged citizen of the world—not only through academic experiences, but also through field trips, internships, volunteering, and service learning.