ISIC United States

What I Wish I Knew Before Studying Abroad

I decided to study abroad during college, which was the best decision! I made some of my favorite memories abroad and grew so much as a person, so if you’re deciding on whether you should do it or not, the answer is YES you definitely should. I loved it so much I went abroad twice, first in London, then Madrid. While I had the best time of my life and learned a lot, I also made some mistakes here and there. Here is some insight into what I wish I knew before leaving the States.


First things first, don’t have any expectations before you go. The way people depict certain places on social media isn’t always accurate, so it’s important to go into a new place and a new experience with an open mind. This will help you be ready for anything that might come your way. For instance, Madrid was completely different to how I imagined. I imagined an urban and modern city, similar to London. I’m not sure why I thought this, but it couldn’t have been further. I was shocked looking out the window on the bus from the airport, but Madrid had its own charm, unlike any city I had ever been to. So don’t believe everything you see on the Internet kids! 


One of the most important lessons I learned while studying abroad is ALWAYS be aware of your surroundings! People (my dad) would tell me this all the time. I would hear them, but not really take the advice with me. It sounds so general, right? But it’s the most important thing to remember if you care about any of your belongings. There are endless stories of phones getting stolen right from someone’s pocket or purse, which sounds crazy, but those pickpocketers are good at what they do out there! A low point for me was when my whole purse with my phone and all my money was stolen right in front of my eyes without me or any of my friends realizing it. Although a positive came from this! I got a nice iPhone/social media cleanse for a good 4 weeks! Anyway, just always be self-aware when you’re out and about and keep your bag close at all times. 

Another thing I wish I knew about before I went abroad was the student discounts available. ISIC has so many discounts abroad, so take advantage! I wish I knew about them earlier because I could have saved so much more, but it really comes in handy while exploring the city. You can get discounts at delicious local restaurants, cool retail stores, popular museums, and so many more! You’re definitely going to want to check these out, especially if you’re on a budget. Get your ISIC before you go abroad and use it when you come back to the U.S. too!

It’s definitely important to get travel insurance! ISIC can provide you with insurance for medical reasons, trip cancellations, lost baggage, etc. You might think you don’t need it, but from my experience, it’s so worth it! Plans change while you’re abroad and things happen, so you want to be prepared for anything. It goes back to not having expectations. When I was abroad, I got the opportunity to attend Madrid Fashion Week. The only problem was that it was right after I was scheduled to leave. Luckily I had travel insurance that let me have my once-in-a-lifetime fashion week experience!

Don’t be afraid to really embrace the culture! I originally went around learning about local customs by observing, but I learned the best way to immerse yourself is by talking to the locals. As a visitor, it’s easy to get caught in the “tourist traps” and miss out on a more authentic experience. The coolest places I visited were recommendations from the locals. I usually like to ask what the most authentic restaurant is or the best place to go out for each day of the week. A nice surprise t I found out from a local while I was in London was that they don’t tip at restaurants! It’s the same in Spain and many other countries in Europe. If you find it difficult to talk to strangers, being abroad is the perfect time to practice!

aron van de pol tZDtyUrYrFU unsplash

Finally, I want to emphasize how valuable it is to take every second you have to explore! Something I wish I did more while I was studying abroad in Madrid is traveling more throughout Spain. While I definitely recommend taking advantage of how cheap and easy it is to take weekend trips to the surrounding countries, it is important to get to know the country you’re in as well. I would say just try to find that balance. Instead of taking every weekend to visit a different country, as enticing as that is, give yourself a few weekends to maybe do a road trip or take a bus to a different city. This will help you really get to know the country you’re staying in and see how the cities and cultures differ from region to region. 

Written by Nour Nabhan

Boston University

Back to overview
Share this article
Student life
studying abroad

Other articles on the topic Student life

  • 10 Ways To Get Ahead During The Uni Holidays (& have fun too!)

    When you’re a student, post-uni life is often the last thing on your mind. It may seem like a million miles away, but the reality is, it’ll be here before you know it! Your university years are the best time to get prepared. Taking advantage of amazing, extracurricular activities will not only help you meet people and gain new life skills but make you more employable in the long term too.

  • The Top 10 Study Abroad Cities in The World

    The verdict is in, here are the 10 best student destinations for 2018.

How Social Media Has Changed Travel

Do's and Don'ts of Winter Dating