Study Abroad Bucket List: Making the Most Out of Your Year Abroad

So, you’ve decided to take the leap, and you’re about to depart for your student exchange program abroad. What will you do? Where will you go? Will you make new friends? Hey, what about actual studying? It can be overwhelming to think about a year of unknowns. You may be torn between your academic pursuits, the fear of missing out, and the desire to use your time to its fullest. Today, we bring you some tips on creating your study abroad bucket list (complete with some bucket list adventures).

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Making a Travel Bucket List

Compiling a bucket list is meant to be an exciting task. Imagine, you’re actually going to spend a year somewhere else, get the chance to challenge and better yourself in many ways, and experience a wealth of new things: new people, a new language, new foods, and new ways of seeing the world. Still, so many options might feel a bit overwhelming, which is why we’re looking at your study abroad bucket list from several perspectives.

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Bucket-List Adventures to Have Anywhere

Wherever you’re going, there are simply feats you must undertake to get the most out of your experience!

  1. Learn as much as you can.
    • If you’re going abroad as a student, you should undoubtedly capitalise on the new educational environment. Universities work differently in every country, and, sure, administration sucks, but this is a precious opportunity to see things from the perspective of a completely different culture and work environment.
    • Travelling as an adventurer? Fear not! You can learn a lot of things on the go. Just reading descriptions of historical sites is already educational. If you know a bit of the target language, chat with the locals. They’ll tell you awesome urban legends about the place and share traditional customs with you. They’ll often give you food, too 😊!
  2. Talk to everyone you meet. Again, you’re in a new place, and everyone (your hosts, students, professors, bartenders, old ladies on trams, etc.) will have something interesting to tell you and a new perspective to share. Mind you, not every culture is equally open to chatting with strangers, so make sure you read up on that before you go. Still, if they engage you in a conversation, don’t just roll your eyes; give it a chance. If you see you’re not on the same page, a smile and a nod doesn’t hurt, and neither does the good old ‘gotta go now, I’m late.’
  3. Don’t get stuck in your exchange group. This is extremely important, especially if you’re going anywhere through an organised programme. Many students try to cling to their friends, speak only their own language, and avoid freely venturing into the new world. There’s nothing wrong with doing things together with your group, but try to carve out time for something you do with others.
  4.  Get active at your university. Check out ads and posters and see what student unions are available based on your interest and language skills. You’ll get to be a part of the community, leave your mark, and gain invaluable experience.
  5. Learn the language. If you don’t speak the language of the place you’re visiting, it’s time to sign up for some courses. Your university will usually offer them, and they’ll be full of other beginners, so there’s nothing to be embarrassed about – just a fun way to immerse yourself in a new culture. Besides, did you know that knowing more languages increases brain function? It’s as good a reason to learn as any.
  6. Attend events organised by the university. Be they specifically geared towards international students or just general, check out the university homepage and see what works for you. For example, my university has Cinema Wednesdays, and they’re screening some great choices (PS check out our post on inspirational movies to watch when you need some motivation!).
  7. Get to know your city. Go to the tourist info centre and get some maps. Do a bit of googling and visit recommended sites, but also be sure to take long walks and explore on your own. A tourist map may tell you where to get the best local food, but it probably won’t inform you about that charming little café hidden in one of the side passages.
  8. Try to find an internship. International experiences are valued not only at universities but also in the workplace. It’s never too early to start learning the ropes of your trade and working abroad. Being an intern will give you insights into your field that you simply wouldn’t get back home.
  9. Feel all the feels. Hard truth time – not every minute of every day will be pleasant. You will be frustrated, scared, worried, and homesick, but these are all valid and healthy emotions. When you’re hit by the blues, allow yourself to process and embrace them. Take these situations to acknowledge how you’re stepping out of your comfort zone and how well you’ve done already. Learn what you can, cry out what you need (get that tub of ice cream, too), and move on stronger and more empowered.
  10. Introduce others to your culture. While you’re there, why not have an international dinner evening? Show your peers what your home is all about. Play some traditional music, show everyone a dance, or brag about all the great movies your country has made. Be proud of what you like, and don’t be afraid to show it!

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Don’t Forget the Bucket List of Places to Visit

No year abroad ends without a trip out of your town. After all, you’re there to learn about the culture and that’s something that doesn’t stop at your university or where you’re staying. Naturally, Dr Google is your best provider of ideas, but as a student, you’ll most likely have to budget your desires. When creating a bucket list of places to visit, consider these points:

  • Is this place historically significant?
  • Does it boast traditional architecture?
  • Is it famous for its popular culture?
  • Will I get to see something completely new and not available elsewhere?
  • Is there a great festival going on there?
  • Do I have a personal interest in it?

If the answer to any of these questions is ‘yes’, then the only thing you still need to consider is whether you can afford it. It’s essential to be careful with your finances, but remember, experiences are more valuable than material things. So, if you get a chance to travel, use it and always make a list of top things you want to see and do at your destination.

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Travelling Alone? Look at This Solo Travel Bucket List

Some people just like to enjoy their solitary time. If you’re one of them, feel free to skip ahead to the bucket list; you already know yourself well enough to appreciate your solitude. However, if you’re afraid of the very idea of venturing into the world alone, I am here to tell you it’s OK!

I won’t lie, I’m a big fan of travelling alone, and I enjoy being in my own head – some really nice people live there. But I still had to take that leap for the first time many years ago. For me, it was a matter of a music festival in another town when all my friends had some excuse or other not to go. I was dying to see these particular bands, so in the end, I hopped on the bus and had a great time. I was about 14 then, but it was a liberating decision. I never looked back, and I absolutely embraced the freedom of travelling alone. The same applied to my first trip abroad (because my friends preferred to burn holes through their pockets on weekend alcohol and refused to save a penny for trips) and my final move to another country for studies.

It all boils down to how much you want something and how willing you are to compromise your desires for potential company. If you really want to go on this adventure but cannot seem to find anyone to do it with, don’t be deterred. Take a deep breath and book that flight. Once you’re there, you won’t be alone for long.

The importance of travelling alone cannot be overstated. This is an incredible opportunity to learn a lot about yourself, such as how you handle crises (because no adventure exists without them), how you organise your time, and what you enjoy when you’re not dependent on others or dictated by group dynamics. Each place you visit is full of wonderful things to see and do, but how you arrange your priorities can never completely match those of others, so this is a chance to put yourself first.

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Things You Should Most Definitely Do When You’re a Solo Traveller

  • Have a drink in a café. If you think it’s embarrassing to be alone, bring a book or your laptop, but ideally, you should be able to sit and enjoy your own time without shields. This is a small thing, but it’ll give you a great confidence boost!
  • Once you’re over getting a cup of coffee, you can go for a meal in a good restaurant. Meals seem even more daunting than drinks, but don’t be afraid to treat yourself. Besides, if you look around, you’ll see many people sitting alone – it’s not that big of a deal, and no one is looking at you funny, I promise.
  • Get active. Wherever you are, there will be a sports facility there. Universities usually offer a good deal of various classes, from volleyball to ballroom dancing. Take this chance to learn something new. Who cares if you’re not perfect at it, the goal is to have fun.
  • Join the local party or festival. Every city has one, and there’ll be music, dancing, and local food. You don’t need company to have fun here; it’ll be crowded anyway.
  • Take an art class and show off your skills. There are many types of art you can try, and your university might have a theatre troop, dancing crews, or painting and crafting workshops. They usually display the results of everyone’s hard work, so now’s the chance to discover your inner artist.
  • Plan an excursion. Check out what nearby place you can go to, hop on the train, and spend the day exploring. To get an extra dopamine hit, put on your best clothes, do your hair and makeup (if you like), and strut your stuff! Don’t forget to treat yourself to a drink.
  • Treat yourself to something extravagant. This is a chance of a lifetime, and while I’m always in favour of being economical, sometimes you have to treat yourself. Book a massage or a day in a spa or have a full English breakfast or some wine by the Eiffel Tower. Go to Fantasy Land or ride a streetcar in Lisbon. Check out Broadway or make an LA weekend getaway. Life is short, so make it as sweet as possible!
  • Always be proud of yourself, especially if this is the first solo adventure you have. Always take a moment to truly embrace your own decision and take pride in how far you’ve come.

study abroad bucket list - studysmarter magazine

Travelling to the United States? Look at This Exchange Study Abroad Bucket List

There are just some things you’ve got to do while in the USA!

  1. Do the Big American Road trip! America is the land of road trip adventures. Pro-tip: check out Jack Kerouac!
  2. Visit New York and climb the Top of the Rock to get the best view of the city.
  3. Enjoy Broadway theatres. The Lion King, Cinderella, Hamilton, Mamma Mia!, Wicked – ALL the choices, all of them worth it!
  4. Have an infinite cup of coffee and dinner in an American diner. You’ll feel like you’re in a movie.
  5. Visit San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge is a must, but did you know that Walt Disney’s family museum is there?
  6. Disneyland. Since we’re mentioning Walt Disney, do not miss out on this experience. You’re never too old for Disney.
  7. Go to national parks. They are truly breathtaking and boast wildlife you can only see in the US.
  8. Listen to jazz in New Orleans. You won’t find a better place than the home of the genre itself!
  9. Don’t miss the Superbowl. There’s a reason everyone loves it so much; it’s unforgettable!
  10. Be thankful for your experiences and express that at Thanksgiving.

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Last Tips for Your Bucket List

It is of the utmost importance to remember that any trip will have its downsides and troubles. Whatever happens, don’t panic. No matter how bad it is, the police and health institutions will always be accessible in English, wherever you are. I suggest finding out the most important phone numbers and saving them on your phone even before the trip. While it’s rare to need any help from these facilities, better safe than sorry.

Release Control

Not every day will be pure bliss. Stress, plans not going well, delays and difficulties, homesickness, and loneliness – they might and probably will all haunt you at some point during your stay abroad. As I said before, acknowledge all these emotions and don’t try to control every little thing. If you’re lonely, call your friends and family. If you’re stressed, go for a walk or take a nap. This trip will change you for the better, but it’ll take some effort and energy. Don’t resist it; embrace it.

Have fun and safe travels!

PS Get a Bucket List Template Here

What do you do during your exchange year?

The most important thing to do during your exchange year is to meet as many locals and learn about their traditions, customs, and culture. Participate in events held by your university or town and travel as much as you can. Don’t forget your studies and try not to be too stressed about things.

What is an exchange student bucket list?

An exchange student bucket list is a set of things every student should do once they decide to study abroad. Apart from making new friends and learning about the culture, you should also devote time to your studies as you’ll get to learn about your field from a different perspective.

What is the best study abroad bucket list?

The best study abroad bucket list is the one that will allow you to make the most out of the time you spend abroad. The best list will include studying, travelling, downtime, time to meet new people and make friends, and time to reflect on your experience and be proud of your achievements.