Things I wish I knew before studying abroad

By Dani Alderman

Preparing to study abroad is a challenge. Let’s face it – along with packing for a 3-8 month trip, you’re about to immerse yourself in an entirely different culture. You might be preparing to learn a new language, living away from home for the first extended period of time, or taking a crash course in personal finance.

Personally, I was so overwhelmed with the excitement and novelty of traveling abroad, I didn’t take advantage of the tools and resources available to me. Although making mistakes and creating your own path is part of the party, I’ve decided to share some real experiences and tips that I wish I had known before I went abroad.

First, be prepared for unforeseen circumstances and sometimes you just have to roll with the punches!

If I’m being completely honest, my first trip within Europe (London to Berlin) was a disaster. My friends and I had planned to take a bus to the airport. However, we hadn’t checked to make sure we knew the address beforehand. We left a few extra minutes early to find the bus stop in case we were lost, but it simply was not enough! You guessed it, we ended up missing our bus and had to take a £125 cab ride (this ends up being approximately $212)! This cab ride was definitely not in the budget. To make matters worse, one of my friends had her debit account frozen by her bank so the rest of us shared her expenses for the trip. This acted as both a lesson in budgeting and for life. Always allocate more money than you need and if an emergency happens to arise you will be prepared! If not, you’ll have more money for your personal use later on. Getting worked up over these situations will only add to the stress. Spending a few extra £, €, $, kr isn’t the end of the world.

Second, make sure your credit card is the right choice for your travels!

I traveled to Europe with an American Express credit card with a foreign transaction fee costing 2.7% of the U.S. dollar amount. These fees can add up quickly and have a deep impact on your budget! In addition, this card was not enabled with EMV technology, which is most widely used in Europe. This meant that for most of my transactions, I would have to show a photo ID and the cashier would check my signature on the back of the card. I was definitely not prepared for how seriously Europeans take identity theft and fraud. That being said, get a credit card with no foreign transaction fees and a chip for added security.

Third, be very familiar with the cultures you are traveling in!

The very first thing I did when I arrived in London for the semester was take a cab ride to my apartment. Little did I know that there is a policy against tipping in most of Europe. I ended up spending much more money than I needed to on tips for my first few weeks abroad. Some cab drivers will take tips from Americans, but other services view tipping as rude and unnecessary. I also didn’t familiarize myself with common terms Londoners use in their daily lives. “Queue” means line, “tube” is the subway, and you must stand to the right on escalators so commuters and fast-walkers can pass you on the way up or down to the subway. These things may seem trivial but the locals appreciate when you take the time to understand and respect their culture.

At the end of your study abroad experience, you will most likely have your own list of things you wish you had known before embarking on your journey. Hopefully, I’ve made your future list just a little bit shorter!