- Category: Volume 87 (Fall 2015 - Spring 2016)
- Published: 30 September 2015
- Written by ERIN MCMULLEN | FEATURES EDITOR
Hans Christian Andersen once said, “To travel is to live” and before I spent a semester living and taking classes in London, England in the Fall of 2014, I hadn’t understood the truth behind his words.
My study abroad experience taught me a lot about myself and the world around me, but I also learned a great deal about traveling and what it takes to visit unknown places along the way.
Although my experience across the Atlantic was my own, what I learned during my time abroad can be used to help any future travelers who have plans to explore other parts of the world. So if you’re getting ready to spend a semester in another country or you’re simply planning a cross-country roadtrip, be sure to keep these tips in mind.
1. Talk to your family regularly
Whether it’s via Facebook, Skype, or WhatsApp, be sure to check in every few days. They will be very, very happy to hear from you. I tried to FaceTime my family two or three times a week while I was abroad; it was a great way for all of us to talk about what we had been up to, and seeing their faces while I spoke to them also made it feel like they weren’t so far away.
Be careful not to get so caught up in calling home that you start to get homesick, but do make sure that you’re keeping in touch often enough that your family knows you’re thinking of them.
2. Create a budget for yourself
Your bank account is something that you should keep in mind before, during, and after your time abroad. Familiarize yourself with the currency you’ll be using, and also how it compares to the American dollar. If you have to, create a weekly or monthly budget for yourself to make sure that you don’t spend more than what’s in your account.
Also, spend wisely; don’t throw all of your money away on alcohol and nights out at the club. Definitely spend some time at the bar so you can experience some of the local culture but be sure to put most of your money towards trips or souvenirs.
3. Keep a diary or create a blog
You’re going to want to have some record of your time abroad because I can guarantee that you’re not going to remember everything that happened a few years from now. Write about the food you ate, the sights you saw, the places you visited, the way you felt when you first realized that you never wanted to go back home.
After you’ve arrived back in America, it’ll be easy to remember your biggest trips and craziest moments, but it might be harder to recall the little things.
4. Don’t plan all of your trips at once
If you’re planning on attending a specific event in a particular country, then definitely plan ahead. A friend and I went to Germany for Oktoberfest and we had to book our tickets and accommodations months in advance. Other than that, don’t worry too much about planning your trips before you even leave America.
“You will meet new people to travel with, your list of countries will change and grow, and suddenly you’ll regret having booked a trip when a new opportunity arises. It’s better, and more fun, to plan your trips as you go along,” explained Gracie Zwernemann, a senior English and education major who studied in London for a semester in 2014.
5. Always be prepared
Research online, make lists, triple check your bags, do whatever you need to do to make sure that you are absolutely prepared for everything. Anything can happen when you travel, so it’s incredibly important to be informed about where you’re headed and what’s going on there.
Not only that, but it’s also important to stay calm and level-headed in the face of a potential crisis or change in itinerary. Things may not always go according to plan, but that shouldn’t ruin any of your experiences.
“Stay centered while traveling by keeping your sense of humor, not taking delays and cancellations personally, and always being prepared for the unexpected,” explained Robyn Asaro, Assitant Director of Study Abroad.
6. Explore by yourself
It’s fun to walk around the city and explore with your friends, but it’s a lot more fun to explore the area when you’re alone. You notice more, you appreciate more, and you have the freedom to sit outside of a local coffee shop and people watch for as long as you want.
There’s no pressure to hurry from one location to the next, which is great because it gives you as much time as possible to appreciate the beautiful city that’s serving as your temporary home. There’s also something incredibly powerful about navigating a new and foreign place all on your own.
However, traveling by yourself brings extra risks; Asaro encourages students to “stay organized while traveling through airports, trains, buses and cabs.” Always be mindful of your phone, wallet, and passport. You never want to lose any of those three items.
7. Bring a disposable camera
Your friends will probably make fun of you when you’re at the bar and you whip out a camera that most people stopped using in the early 2000s, but I promise it’ll be worth it.
I brought a disposable camera to London with me and used it throughout the semester, so when I got the film developed after I returned home I was able to take a nice trip down memory lane. I had forgotten about most of the photos that my friends and I had taken, so flipping through all of the pictures was a really fun surprise.
8. Make conversation with everyone
I spoke to a lovely older British woman on the bus about flowers, I talked about American politics with a wonderful British man that I met at the bar, I discussed what it’s like to live in the U.S. with two hilarious Australian men while I was at Oktoberfest, and these conversations have quickly become very fond memories of my trip abroad.
Being friendly and personable will go a long way, especially when you’re spending time in another country. Non-Americans will be curious about where you come from and what it’s like there, and you’ll probably even run into other Americans who will love to hear a familiar accent.
There will be some unfriendly people who won’t be interested but whenever you get the chance, don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation. You’ll learn a lot and others will learn from you.
9. Forget about FOMO
You’ll scroll through your Instagram feed some days and see all of the cute photos that your friends uploaded from the last time they all hung out and for a split second you’ll wish you hadn’t missed it. It’s perfectly okay, and very normal, to be upset about missing out on certain things going on back home, but there will be plenty of events and parties for you to attend when you get back.
Kara Bradley, a senior communication major who also studied abroad in London, was originally sad about the fact that she would be missing Homecoming while she was away. “But when I saw the pictures of my friends stading in a parking lot while it was pouring and I was laying on the beaches of the Amalfi Coast, I knew that studying abroad was the best decision I had ever made,” she explained.
10. Cherish every moment
Before you leave the U.S., your impending time away from home may seem like forever, but by the time you head back to the States, it will feel like all you did was blink and you were already boarding a plane headed back to America.
It’s very hard to put into words just how incredible my semester abroad was, and I think that feeling is pretty unanimous among other students who have spent any amount of time in another country. Having the whole world right at your fingertips really teaches you a lot about yourself, as well as everyone and everything around you.
In the middle of all of your traveling, be sure to slow down every once in a while and really think about how lucky you are. Appreciate all of the beauty that you are surrounded by. Take a mental picture and stow it away in the back of your brain so that long after you’ve arrived back in America, you can dream about your home away from home.
PHOTOS TAKEN by Erin McMullen