(the obvious and the not so much)
10. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it
Whether you’re studying in Italy or Australia, you’re in for a big lifestyle change and culture shock like you’ve never experienced. The best way to experience life abroad is to try and assimilate into the different customs and practices of your surroundings. “You mean this tiny cup of espresso is supposed to be a substitute for my regular 16 ounces of iced caffeine?” Cue:
Before you totally write their customs off, stand at the bar and drink your espresso and stop scouring the city for any place that will serve you American coffee.
9. The Buddy System is a very real, essential thing
“DOES EVERYONE HAVE A BUDDY?” We’ve been pestered with this question since kindergarten and now that you’re 18+ it probably falls on deaf ears. Let me just tell you, this is so vital. I love to believe that people are inherently good and I do believe that most are. However, you’ve seen Taken right? Let that be your motivation to listen. You want to leave the bar early but your friends want to stay? Bribe someone into leaving with you by paying for their kebab on the way home. Boom, done.
8. Guard your iPhone with your life and maybe an electric force field
Coming from a girl who had two iPhones stolen in the span of a month in two different European countries, giving up a night of blurry, probably embarrassing pictures at the bar is lot easier to come to terms with then explaining to Mom & Dad why you need a new iPhone 5 express shipped over seas. People are ruthless and will reach into your purse and snatch your precious lifeline to society before you’re able to order your first drink. It can happen anywhere however, so make sure you always know where it is and possibly cut out a hole in your purse lining and sew in a zipper to secure safety. I realize this is dramatic but so are the phone calls I had with my parents begging them to send me my second replacement iPhone less than a month after they sent the first. Think about it.
7. The Importance of Planning Ahead
#TBT to the night I landed at the Girona airport at 9 PM with my roommate not understanding that it was actually an hour train ride outside of Barcelona and wondering how we were to actually get to our hostel. Traveling on your own can be an awesome experience but when you forget how many steps are required to get from point A to point B you can find yourself in one of those situations you say “well one day we’ll look back and laugh” – a great experience to have but avoid it by looking into how you’re going to get to the airport and then from the airport to your destination. Failing to plan the little details can turn out to be a really big “woooops”..
6. Slowing down can make all the difference
As an American, we’re hard wired to be constantly going and working leaving little time to enjoy ourselves. There’s a stark contrast to the “can’t stop won’t stop” distinctly American attitude and the way Europeans live their day-to-day lives. It’s a much more go with the flow lifestyle; so shops close when they please, people run late or don’t show at all, and not everything gets done when it’s supposed to. At first this may make you want to throw a tantrum but take a page from the European playbook and don’t take it all so seriously, you’ll find you may just enjoy yourself.
5. Breaking free of the study abroad bubble can be worth it
Don’t get me wrong the bubble rocks and also gives you the opportunity to meet some awesome people but you didn’t fly halfway across the world to spend all of your time with just Americans. Chances are your study abroad city will have a few bars known for being a meeting spot for students and they’re usually a blast. Once in a while though, check out a new spot around town. Ask a professor or program director a great spot to meet locals because half of your abroad experience will be made up of the people you meet and not just the places you travel. Make friends all around the world so you’ll always have a reason to come back 🙂
4. Spend your money on experiences, not things
I can’t say I didn’t shop because I would be lying through my teeth plus I still have mini souvenir bottles of Chianti Classico patiently waiting to be drunk in my closet (don’t they say red wine gets better with age?). However, if I could return all the cheap leather bracelets, mini bottles of limoncello and other things I bought, I probably could have afforded that trip to Amsterdam or sky diving in the Alps. The worst part is I also spent money on things that weren’t even exclusively European… I was all “I need this very rare scarf that I found at the H&M in London and life won’t be complete if I don’t buy this incredibly overpriced sweater from Top Shop”. Well guess what? Your profile pic of you skydiving in the Swiss Alps will get a lot more likes than the one of you in that Top Shop sweater. All jokes aside, make the money you spend worth it and don’t be hasty in your material purchases. For most people, studying abroad only happens once! Make it count.
3. Hostels are nothing like the horror movie
Although your Facebook album “Semester Abroad” depicts a very glamorous lifestyle that your friends back home will undoubtedly comment with jealousy “OMG can I be you?” – you’ll soon realize that while you’re visiting some of the most beautiful places in the world, your digs may not measure up. Before you’re first hostel experience, chances are you’ll look like this:
But fear not. Hostel life will teach you a lot about yourself like, are you completely high maintenance? and how outgoing are you really? You may have booked a 12 person dorm with a shared bathroom and half of the guests may be a rowdy bunch of Australians. You also may be eating stale bread with an unidentifiable flavor or jam and instant coffee for breakfast but at the end of the day you have a safe place to rest your head
2. You’re much more independent than you think
I’ll be honest I used to make a huge deal about traveling by myself when I was in the states. And when I say traveling I mean like, doing errands and driving back to my college campus after break. I think there were a few times I had to GPS my doctor’s appointment – it’s not something I’m proud of but I’ve come a long way. Now when you’re abroad, these experiences where you suddenly realize this newfound independence usually won’t be voluntary. Chances are actually, you could be near tears in a German train station wondering where your train leaves from in 5 minutes and why god WHY are you here by yourself and if you could just call your mom you might be able to ask her to google translate “where is my platform?” into German for you. Safe to say I had a few of these exhilarating learning moments abroad. When you only have you to depend on, it becomes pretty clear what you’re capable of. You learn to read maps, ask questions, fumble foreign phrases and figure it out as you go. All of a sudden you’re a new person and you wonder why you ever doubted yourself in the first place.
- Nothing compares to home
It’s not a secret that the home of the free and the brave is full of ample opportunity, convenience, and most obviously, familiarity. Before I came abroad, I had it in my head that Europe was 100% better than the states in every category. It didn’t take me long to realize how much I missed everything about my life back in the states. It takes an experience like leaving home for three and a half months to make you truly appreciate where you come from. As much as Florence will always be my second home, it took leaving the familiarity and comfort of the good old US of A to realize just how much I was truly thankful for everything that I had at home. That said, there are a few European policies I would love to see the US government adopt but that is a different topic entirely…