15 Study Abroad Mistakes Students Make – But Don’t Need To

 (photo courtesy of Andrea Bouchaud)

Studying abroad is a big change in a student’s life. Whether you are going for a summer program, one semester or an entire year, it’s important to avoid making these 15 mistakes which will negatively affect your study abroad experience. How do I know this? Because I committed all 15 mistakes my year abroad in Paris. These things are very easy to avoid and can be started today! The sooner you begin to incorporate these into your daily life now, the easier it will be to use them when you are abroad. Learn from my mistakes and don’t make these 15 study abroad mistakes:

  • Not researching the host culture besides what you learned in foreign language class or in a guide book.
  • Not doing additional language preparations besides what you learned in foreign language class.
  • Not speaking with your host family /roommates before going abroad to iron out the details or expectations of your living arrangement. If you don’t do it before, you can do it abroad. It is never too late to talk about this. It’s just easier and can save a lot of misunderstanding and confusion if you can talk about expectations and house rules before hand.
  • Not researching what the college experience is like at the host university.
  • Not having an accepting and inquisitive attitude.
  • Believing that the native students will befriend you first and that you don’t have to leave your comfort zone to befriend them first.
  • Not making a weekly/monthly budget and a separate travel budget.
  • Not researching how the natives dress and how to fit into the host culture.
  • Having the “it’s not me. It’s them.” mentality.
  • Comparing the way the host country natives do things to the way that Americans do them and then judging the natives for not being like Americans.
  • Not developing healthy habits to help combat homesickness.
  • Trying to maintain a serious relationship long distance.
  • Not challenging yourself to leave your comfort zone before going abroad.
  • Going abroad with unrealistic expectations
  • Not believing that you need to or should change for the study abroad experience.

So what are you waiting for? Start doing these today and have a less stressful and successful study abroad experience. It’s up to you to make it happen! Do you have a mistake that you would like to add to this list? If so tweet #SAM (for study abroad mistake) to @twentyinparis along with the regret for it to be featured on Twenty in Paris website. Credit will be given.


Lustrous Wooden Cabinet with Regret File Label in Dramatic LIght.

Avoid This Study Abroad Regret

(photo courtesy of

Andrea’s Introduction: R.C. O’Leary, a Florida author, shares with us and all students on the fence about studying abroad why it is the experience to have in your twenties. If you don’t take it while you can, life just may get in the way.

Growing up in Connecticut, my father’s employment situation could be described as a “Tale of Two Careers.” For the first ten years of my life, my father bounced around among various jobs, and we lived the typical middle class life that was common to the suburbs of New York City. But then, like some magical star appearing out of nowhere, my father secured a job consulting for one of the biggest international banks in the world. All of a sudden, my father’s conversations turned from mundane topics such as what was playing at the local movie house to stories about shopping at Harrods, smoking cigars with Sean Connery, and what it was like to fly home via the Concorde. I’ll never forget the first time he described leaving Heathrow in darkness, catching the sun, and arriving back to the States in daylight.

It was an amazing process to see my father go from selling real estate and various life insurance annuities for several small time agencies in Southern Connecticut to traveling the world in a style that seemed reminiscent of the Count of Monte Cristo. You would think that having a father who was a globetrotter would have led me to pursue a career in international business and travel. Unfortunately, it did not. And that, not traveling internationally, and specifically not studying abroad, is on my list of regrets. It’s a mistake I wanted to share with others who read Andrea’s blog so that they might avoid making a similar one. There are probably dozens of reasons why I haven’t traveled more internationally when I had the chance, (probably a book’s worth). Whatever the reason, by the time I got to college, first at La Salle University and then at the University of Pennsylvania, I don’t think I was ever able to see much beyond my daily life of going to classes and trying to earn good grades. I ended up so focused on my GPA that I ended up completely missing the boat on studying abroad.

I do recall getting some information on a study abroad program in Europe during my junior year at Penn, but the idea withered away, and I spent all my college years in the city of Philadelphia. Don’t get me wrong, Philly is an exciting city. I had plenty of good times, but it’s not exactly London, Paris or Berlin. Unfortunately, if I had just shown a little more interest in the larger world, I might have had some experiences in world-class cities that would have made an indelible impact on my life. If I had only known then what St. Augustine did when he said “life is a book, but unless you travel you only see one page of it.”

The good news is I didn’t completely miss out on seeing Europe. I did have a five day trip with my father to London during my junior year of high school, and my wife and I did spend 7 days on a European cruise for our honeymoon. But compared to the options I could have pursued? Semesters abroad in places like Cambridge, Paris, or Brussels? Not even close. Thankfully, I’m an optimist who tries not to let past mistakes hold me back. I’m much more interested in focusing on the daily joy I experience with my family and the many blessings I have in my life. But that doesn’t mean other people can’t learn from my mistakes.

Along those lines, I truly hope that anyone who reads Andrea’s blog, or gets her new book, “The Paris Diaries,” and has the chance to study abroad will take full advantage of the chance. Studying abroad during college is a once in a lifetime opportunity and one that should not be missed. Because before you know it, your life will consist of long-term commitments, both personal and financial, that will make such an opportunity harder and hard to find. I sincerely hope you’ll take advantage of the chance to study abroad while in college. Almost as much as I hope the same lucky star that showed up out of nowhere and led my father to a life in which he circumvented the globe multiple times offers me a similar opportunity.

Just that thought (delusional or not), that I might one day have the chance to travel the world as a best-selling author was enough to motivate me to reach the finish line on my novel “Hallways in the Night.” The thought that it might be possible to generate a second opportunity and ameliorate a regret–even if it’s a lot tougher and infinitely more work than if I had been smart enough to seize upon the opportunity the first time around, when it was there for the taking.

Like it hopefully is now for you.



R.C. O'Leary

R.C. O'Leary is the author of Hallways in the Night, a legal thriller that Bookstory says is "An edge of the seat legal battle that keeps you turning the pages until the very end" and that Bob D'Angelo of the Tampa Tribune describes as "a very readable, fast-paced book with good character development and some surprising plot twists." He is married and lives in Florida.