The University of Iowa

5 goals you should set for yourself before you study abroad

March 13th, 2019
group of soccer players

One way that I have been able to connect to my local community, is through soccer. Having played my whole life, I was eager to find a group to play with during my time abroad. Pictured here are some of my friends from Spain, Colombia, Argentina, Portugal, Germany, England, and Greece! Playing twice a week with this diverse group has helped me grow, all while playing the game that I love!

Studying abroad can be an overwhelming task. Finding the right location, with the classes and experiences you want to take, all within your price range is a difficult process, and you haven’t even left campus yet. Once abroad, you meet countless new friends, learn a completely new culture and time starts to fly. But soon you find yourself cherishing your last months and weeks abroad, wishing you would have had a better idea of what you were getting yourself into. Well, you’re in luck! Here are 5 goals that you should set for yourself during your time abroad!

1) Get to know some locals!

It’s easy to get to your university abroad and stay with the other Americans that are there with you. Speaking English and having a relatively common cultural background allow for a little bit of comfort in a foreign place, and it is important to enjoy these relationships while you travel. That being said, I have found that the best way to get to know a new language, place, or culture, is to find someone who has known it their whole life. By making friends with locals, I have found great restaurants, little known beach spots, and enjoyed real local culture, all while drastically improving my Spanish!

2) Involve yourself with the community

Most study abroad programs have great advisors that are willing to help students find the best experience that they can while they are overseas. Taking advantage of these advisors and their community knowledge could introduce you to new experiences you would have otherwise never known about. Volunteering in local clubs, tutoring locals in English, or simply joining a local soccer or frisbee club are a few examples of the extracurricular activities that your advisor can help you find!

3) Use a journal or diary to reflect on life abroad

Living in a different country is a unique experience that everyone handles differently. Writing down some memories and reflections of days abroad can give you an outlet to vent about anything that’s on your mind, great trips you’ve gone on, or how life is different here than in the United States. This is also a great way to look back on your time once you return to your home university.

4) Make a travel social media account

Living so far away from your friends and family can be difficult at times, so it’s important to stay in touch whenever possible. By making a travel social media account, you can allow friends and family to see where you have been and the awesome sites that you’ve seen. This is also a great way to keep memories and pictures from everyday life overseas!

5) Explore on your own

Traveling with a group of people is a great way to make friends, and enjoy a new city together, and I recommend that you do it more than once while you are studying abroad. However, exploring a city (museum, cafe, open market) on your own can sometimes be more rewarding. It's a great way to get to know yourself, follow your own interests, and feel a sense of independence. 


A native of Iowa City, Iowa, Mitch McCarthy is an international studies major at the University of Iowa, spending the semester in Alicante, Spain, on the USAC Alicante program. 

Interested in going abroad? Learn more about first steps