Study Abroad Woes: Getting The Balance Right

When applying to study abroad, your home university will undoubtedly tell you about all of the wonderful academic experiences and benefits you will gain, and they should! After all, it is called ‘study’ abroad, right? The experience of studying your chosen subject in a different country and university is invaluable and will give you a brand new perspective on your degree. However, when studying abroad, it’s important not to let your desire to excel academically prevent you from experiencing everything that your new home has to offer. Balance is, as I have quickly come to learn, unbelievably important. You will have so many wonderful things happening in your life while abroad and you won’t want to miss out on anything (FOMO is a no no), so it’s crucial to find a way to balance what you want to do so you don’t return home with regrets. Here are some tips that can hopefully help make finding this balance a little easier!

1: Plan ahead

This may seem obvious; however it is nonetheless important. Know exactly when you have class, when you have assignments due, and when you have exams. Knowing this in advance will show you exactly where you have to time to commit to getting to know your campus, extracurricular activities, socialise with your new friends, or go exploring your new home, without neglecting your studies. It will allow you to stay on top of work which means you can enjoy everything else without worrying about that essay you have to write when you get home. Time management is key for success, and if you manage your time well, there is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to study and socialise to your heart’s content.


2: But be realistic

We all become tempted to create an extensive Excel spreadsheet documenting exactly what we’ll be doing at every hour of every day when trying to plan (or is that just me…). This is unrealistic and is itself, ironically, a waste of time. Planning needs to be productive, and whilst creating extensive spreadsheets may work for 1% of college students, 99% will stick to it for a day and then realise it’s completely unattainable and give up. When planning ahead, know what commitments you have and how much time during the week will be spent committing to them. For example, as a dancer, I know that I will have dance classes on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday next week. While also considering my academic schedule I can know when I will have time to see friends, or relax (jk lol that never happens) or even do more classes! (more likely). Let go of some control and allow time to be spontaneous and create plans as they present themselves! Don’t over-plan and then become frustrated when you don’t stick to that spreadsheet row by row. Be realistic and find what works for you! Because let’s face it, this isn’t exactly the kind of planning we want to be doing when studying abroad…

Read this article on bullet journalling abroad to find out if that’s something for you!


3: Get involved

Academically speaking, we all want to make the most of our opportunities at our new university. But this shouldn’t stop you from getting involved outside of the classroom or outside of the university all together! Join a society or a club on campus. I recently joined NSU Modern, a competitive hip-hop dance team at UCLA (something I NEVER thought I would have had the opportunity to do), and I am also a member of UCLA’s Victoria Secret PINK campus team. I was very hesitant to get involved, but I have loved every second of it and met the most wonderful people because I actively looked for opportunities. I never got involved in societies at my home university (King’s College London) but when I got to UCLA I knew it was something I would regret not doing, and it was the best decision I made since getting here. If getting involved on campus isn’t something that appeals to you, then try looking locally in your community. Being a dancer in LA, it’s safe to say there’s an abundance of studios and classes I can take, and I do, multiple times a week (probably too many times but I can’t resist). Making time to do the extracurricular things I enjoy actually makes me enjoy my studies more because I don’t feel like I’m bombarded with work. Step outside your comfort zone and try something new. I guarantee you won’t regret it!


4: Don’t get TOO involved

In the excitement of moving to a new country and to a new university, many can be tempted to do EVERYTHING. But we have to remember we are supposed to be studying too. Don’t spend the entire day with friends if you know you have an assignment due in the morning. Don’t get involved in so many extracurricular activities that you don’t have time to relax. If you overwork yourself, you won’t enjoy what you’re doing because you won’t have the energy to. You’re a HUMAN too, so make time to treat yo self every now and then, and don’t forget to study every now and then too.


5: Experiment

Finding a balance can be extremely difficult, especially when everything is so new. Try out different things to find out what works for you, and don’t become stressed if things don’t work out perfectly the first time. Don’t be afraid to switch things up! If you tried one sport and didn’t like it, try a different one. Just because something thing doesn’t work out doesn’t mean nothing else will. Be open minded and flexible, and don’t be disappointed if things don’t go exactly how you thought they would. We’re only human here people, you don’t have to get it right every time.

At the end of the day, remember you are lucky enough to be studying abroad, something students across the world would kill to do, and yet YOU’RE the lucky one. Make the most of it! Take whatever opportunities come your way (within reason of course), break outside of your comfort zone, and enjoy every second of it. Chances are what you do now will change you in more ways than you realise, so make it count.

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Charlotte Pickles

Charlotte is a second year Philosophy student enrolled at King’s College London currently studying abroad at UCLA in Los Angeles, California. In addition to being a full time student, Charlotte is also a pre-professional dancer and spends most of her evenings training. Originally from London, Charlotte has spent nearly nine years of her life living in the United States, spending a year and a half in Manhattan, New York and six and a half years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Though she is completing a year of study abroad at the moment, Charlotte permanently moved to Los Angeles when she arrived in California around six weeks ago. She will be returning to London in August 2017 to complete her final year of undergraduate study and after graduating she will be returning to the states where she will begin pursuing her post-graduate education. Charlotte loves to travel and loves to share her experiences on social media, so be sure to follow her Instagram to stay up to date with all her adventures!


    1. That’s wonderful! I’ve never been to Brazil but it is definitely on my bucket list. I completely agree, travelling is so important and I think, given the chance, everyone should, whether it be through studying abroad or a gap year.

  1. Can’t agree more about the “Don’t get TOO involved” suggestion. I’ve spent time working at a Chinese university in which students went to the US for a short period of time and simply, they really forgot about the entire studying aspect of the trip! That being said, as you’ve highlighted in your piece, working to establish a balance is important and ultimately will be all the more reward both personally and academically. I only wish more of my students took your advice!

  2. Some excellent tips for anyone who might be thinking about traveling overseas to study. Much of the same worries would happen at home, so you might as well have an adventure and try the overseas study option, I say!

  3. I’m also a working student right now, and I think this is correct. I may not be studying abroad, but I’m still traveling. And I really need to plan ahead to balance work, school, and travel. So far I’m doing great!

    1. That’s great to hear! The intent of this piece, whilst aimed primarily at those studying abroad, is to offer advice to anyone who is travelling to a new place or moving for work or school. I’m glad to hear that this applies to you also! Best of luck with your work and travels.

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