Putting the “Study” Back in Your Study Abroad

Posted on October 7, 2011


There's ways to travel and study at the same time. Image from Travelpod

AKA, some advice on how to balance classes and travel.

It’s hard to focus on schoolwork when you’re determined to visit twelve countries in a single semester — but come midterms, all that joyriding will catch up with you. To keep from falling too far behind in all those art history and wine appreciation classes, you’ll have to incorporate some classwork into your travels.

Here’s some advice to help you put the “study” back in study abroad.

By Hayley Bisceglia

  • Make a plan. Before you leave, prioritize your workload. Plan to complete the most sensitive projects first, and be realistic about what you can accomplish. Having a select few goals (completing specific writing assignments, for example), will make the process of studying while traveling more manageable.
  • Pack light (when it comes to your school work). This is key, especially when you’re dealing with budget airlines’ baggage restrictions. Here are a few tips:
  • Make a study guide. Condense your notes into a few pages before you leave based on what you need for your high-priority projects. This saves you from the added weight of notebooks and a laptop, and puts all of the essential information in easy-to-review format.
  • Make photocopies. No one wants to lug a bag of textbooks from place to place, and ripping out pages makes it impossible to sell the book back at the end of the semester. Photocopy essential pages or chapters for reading assignments.
  • Study in transit. Planes, buses and trains are the perfect opportunity to get some quick studying or reading out of the way without cutting into precious exploring opportunities.
  • Plan your “study time.” Not all train rides are created equal. Before you go, ask yourself how concentration-friendly each environment will be and choose which legs of your trip will be used for studying and which will be for napping. Taking 30 minutes to relax and read when you first wake up at your hostel, before starting a busy day, or taking a few hours mid-day when a city will be hot and overcrowded, can make all the difference in your study habits while you travel.
  • Leave your laptop at home. Bringing a laptop on a weekend trip is both risky and impractical. If you need to write a paper, pack a notepad and revert to the pre-computer era: handwrite a rough draft that you can type up and polish later.
  • Use your time to outline. If your paper requires a lot of online research — and you opt out of bringing a computer — get started with a detailed outline instead, leaving gaps for the things you’ll need to look up later on. This will take a chunk out of your writing time when you finally get home.
  • Practice your language: Talk. If you’re studying abroad, odds are you’re taking a required language class. The best way to increase your comprehension, broaden your vocabulary, and practice speaking is to actually talk to the people around you — in museums, in buses, in bars. No textbook required.
  • Visit that which you study. If you’re taking a course on history or classical art, incorporate the monuments or pieces you’re learning about into your travels. Actually seeing works of art outside a textbook make them seem much more relevant and memorable.
  • Bring earplugs. Studying can be tough at the best of times, and airplanes especially are not focus-friendly places. Invest in some ear plugs to drown out the world — you’ll need them for your hostel, anyway!

Making time for both school and travel starts long before your first weekend trip. If at all possible, schedule your classes three days a week, and have your first class on Monday mornings be a late one to accommodate delays. This is easier than it sounds since study abroad programs know full well that weekends are for traveling, and are reluctant to schedule lectures on those days.

Schedule one to two-hour long gaps between your classes to function as a designated study break. Use these gaps to get your studying out of the way in one fell swoop, so you can be free to enjoy from then out. With a little luck, some well-timed classes and the occasional lunch hour spent with a textbook, you can get all your coursework done before you ever leave town.

More Resources

Got any study tips for students heading abroad? What works for you? Let us know in the comments section below.