Photography Guide to Studying Abroad


I will always see my study abroad experience in Costa Rica as one of the best times of my life.  However, as it becomes more and more distant in the rear view mirror of life, the more specific details of the trip seem to fade with it.  One of the best ways to remember, reminisce, and relive your experience abroad?  Take LOTS of pictures!  Photography is a fantastic way to visually recreate these memories, and the photos will even serve as a great decorative option for your house/apartment/dorm upon your return.  Here are a few tips on how to make the most of your time abroad through the lens:

1. Invest in a good camera, if you don’t already have one.


I know exactly what you are thinking… “Studying abroad is already costing me enough, why spend more money on a camera?”  This is a question that I asked myself as well.  Granted, it was quickly negated as I clicked the “Place order” button on Amazon, but it did cross my mind at one point.  The pictures you come back with will be priceless, and will be the things that you go to most often when feeling nostalgic about your trip.  I took the dive and bought a Canon DSLR camera—something that I will never regret.  I’m not saying you need to get a top-of-the-line professional camera, but something that will not disappoint when looking back.  But when traveling, always be aware of your surroundings and realize that good cameras sell for a lot of money on the black market abroad.

2. Try to take too many pictures.


It is not possible to take too many pictures.  The only thing that can stop you is memory card space, but shouldn’t be an issue as long as you’re deleting after uploading.  During my 6 1/2 months in Costa Rica, I took right around 7,000 pictures and can still think of certain instances when I wished I had my camera or had taken more pictures of a site.  It sounds ridiculous with that large of a sample size, but it can happen.

3. Use these pictures to share with friends and family!


Whether you prefer Facebook albums, Instagram, a Flickr account, or weekly blog, use these pictures to share with friends and family to keep them (Mom) up-to-date.  I personally would suggest blogging; although it can be a lot of work, from a selfish standpoint, it is the best option.  I find myself going back to my blog and reading about what I did during a random week a year and a half ago, and having the written memories paired with a visual aid are the best way to reminisce.

4. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of a unique story-telling opportunity.


There are constant cultural happenings and events going on in other countries that we are unaware of here in the United States.  There are even aspects of your everyday life that seem surreal while abroad.  One reason to always have a camera on youI had two cameras: one compact camera I took everywhere and my other, bigger Canon camerais to be able to capture these rare sightings in the moment.  Many times they occur on sidewalks or street corners… sometimes they happen on the host school’s campus outside of the biology building (which is where I found the three-toed sloth above hanging out).  Don’t be afraid to ask for a picture with any participants or performers as they would be just as fascinated with American culture as you are abroad, and don’t catch yourself without a camera to capture a rare sighting!  These also make for great stories to be able to blog about or tell family, since someone wouldn’t be able to experience those events in the United States.  Even something as culturally simple as clothing or food (as horrible as food pictures can be) can be big parts about your experience.

5. Take pictures of the everyday moments.

In Costa Rica, we had a Grupo de Kansas office that we went to nearly everyday while on campus.  The office became like a second home since we were there so much, but I never really got a good picture of it since it didn’t seem special at the time.  Looking back, I wish I had better pictures of the office since it was such an important part about my time at UCR.  This is just one example, but the point is that although a place that you spend the most time at during your program may not have the “wow” factor of a picturesque mountain or beach, think of the things that stand out to you most on your trip and try to grab a picture of them.  Since often times you will see these places nearly every day of your study abroad experience, these moments will be the ones mostly missed.



These are just five simple pointers of how to better your study abroad experience through photography.  Who knows when the next time will be that you can return to the country you choose for your program… You might as well take advantage of it while you can.

UCR Program Page

Andy’s Blog (Spring 2013)