Europeans are greener- maybe the U.S. should take a hint. (To clarify, I’m talking about the environment but another type of green definitely applies ;))
Siestas should be part of every culture. A nap in the middle of the day, who doesn’t love that?
Don’t take your eyes off your purse, wallet, cell phone, etc. They will get taken. True story: I witnessed a girl’s cell phone get taken right out of her hands as she was walking to class, only 100 meters from the building. Spoiler alert: she chased after him and got her cell phone back, but that is not usually the case so, BE CAREFUL! Stop putting your phone on tables too, people will come up and take it. So put the phone away, and actually talk to the people you’re with.
Try new, cute off the map cafés, they’re so much cozier than Starbucks and have great cappuccinos and café con leche, and even better THICK hot chocolate! They usually offer free wifi too, which seems to be pretty limited at most Starbucks.
Ditch the iPhone, Blackberry, and Android. Not having 3G everywhere I went was a blessing. We’re all so glued to our phones on Facebook, twitter, instagram, and imessage that sometimes we forget to look up and take a look around. Take in the beauty of wherever you are. No matter how many “likes” you get on that instagram photo you put up, the experience of seeing something firsthand in incomparable.
Try NEW foods!! Whenever you leave your home country you’re going to find new “weird” foods in other countries that might appall you at first, but trying new things is part of the culture and it’s part of the experience living somewhere unfamiliar.
Travel, explore, and travel some more, but give yourself an adequate number of weekends to stay in the place you’re studying in. Part of being abroad is making the place you’re living in your new home. Make local coffee shops your new hang out spot and find a bar to go to every week to make you feel like it’s your local bar. Enjoy the leisurely time spent in the city you’re studying in, sleep in and stroll around town and take advantage of the fact that you don’t need google maps to figure out where exactly you’re going.
That being said, when you travel don’t waste your time sleeping in and hanging out in the hostel/hotel/air bnb you’re staying at. Stay out late and wake up early. Most of the trips you take abroad are only for a couple of days, and in those couple of days be sure to see everything you can see and do everything you can do. Every city has so much to offer, you won’t want to miss a thing. (P.S. waking up at 5 AM for Oktoberfest was totally worth it!)
Whether you like museums or not, go to them. Going abroad is about expanding your horizons and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. You don’t have to be an art history fanatic to enjoy Picasso and Van Gogh’s work. You’ll realize it’s cool when you see that one painting that’s been in every history textbook of yours since you can remember, and now you’re finally seeing it up close and in person.
Book trips, hostels/hotels, air bnbs, in advance! Don’t waste your money on expensive flights and nice airlines by booking too late. Save money on flying Ryanair and Easyjet. They get you from point A to point B for a lot less than other airlines. (TIP: only downside to these airlines is you can only bring ONE carry-on bag. That means no purse and carry-on, only ONE. Remember that, or you’ll get charged a ridiculous fee. Also print your boarding pass before you get to the airport). Also hostels are a great way to save money and if you research them, you can usually find a pretty decent one too. You’re not spending all day in the room anyways, so who cares if it’s all that nice? Air bnb’s are also a great way to stay in a nice apartment for a weekend for a decent price. If you’re going with a lot of friends and can you’re comfortable sharing a couple beds, I definitely recommend them! These things all fill up fast though, so book everything in advance, you’ll save a lot of money, which you can use when you get there! (Watch out for friends who wait to book last minute, you’ll end up in a nice hotel you can’t afford, but if you’re lucky you’ll end up somewhere like this. The bathtub was incredible but the stairs were a death trap!)
Stop spending your money on so many material items. Everyone loves to come back from Europe with a whole new wardrobe, but mostly so they can nonchalantly reply “I got this in Italy” when friends ask where that AMAZING leather coat is from. Shopping is shopping. Clothes are clothes. Money spent on experiences rather than a material item is money much better spent. Money spent on clothes for the experience is totally okay though. If you can get your hands on a drindl for Oktoberfest, DO IT! I mean come on, could my friend Alice look any cuter?? (Note: I’m obviously not totally against shopping, look for cute boutiques in trendy areas, they have great stuff that you probably can’t find in the states).
The travel apps on phones really do help. Trip advisor is great! A lot of times the best places are hidden away and spots that most of the time only locals know about. These places are hidden gems, find them!
Figure out the public transportation system. Europe public transportation is very efficient (and usually very clean!). Taking the metro saves a lot of time and money, especially when you’re in big cities. They’re usually not too hard to figure out, so use them! Don’t we all look happy to be to be taking the metro??
Appreciate the locals around you, and make an effort to talk to them. Everyone has a story. Listen to it. You meet some really interesting people abroad. Also, the locals are typically very friendly and want to help you. That being said, however, make some kind of effort to work with them as well. If you’re in a country where you don’t speak the native language, make a conscious effort to learn at least SOME of it! Most people know some English, but that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. People appreciate it when you make an effort to speak to them in their native language, rather than them having to cater to English all the time. It’s also easier to get around if you put in the effort to learn a thing or two.
Love the people you live with abroad; whether it’s a host family, college friends, or strangers studying at the same university as you, they are sharing your abroad experience with you, so make the most of it with them! I shared an apartment with girls from Tulane who I knew, but not very well. Sharing my abroad experience with them has been the greatest gift I could ask for. I love each one of them for their own quirky, fun-loving, caring, and adventurous personalities. I couldn’t have asked for better people to live with abroad. When you’re abroad you sort of get thrown into this whole new world, where everything is different, the culture, the language, and the people. It’s nice to have friends to embark on this wild journey with you. These “Tulane acquaintances” have become some of my best friends and my experience abroad would not have been the same without each of them.
Send post cards from everywhere you go! People love to get postcards and it’s a nice way to stay in touch with relatives. Everyone’s interested in what you’re doing and where you’re going, so take some time out of your day to tell them. Nothing excited my Nana more than getting a postcard from me; she’d take it to the nursing home where she volunteered and brag about me to all of her friends, and tell them my stories. If taking 5 minutes out of my day to send her a postcard meant making her whole day or even week, than I’d say it was worth it. Show your friends and family some love, they’ll appreciate it. Also going to Paris with some of my high school friends was one of my favorite trips! Being in Europe with friends from home is a surreal experience that you could never have predicted would happen back in high school. (shout out to Jack who was there too!)
Speaking of showing some love, make sure you let your parents/guardians/whoever’s supporting you know how much you appreciate this experience. While you may be supporting yourself abroad, your parents helped you get there and will most likely be supporting you either financially or emotionally along the way. Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience. Being able to go to Lagos, Munich, Barcelona, Granada, London, Amsterdam, Dublin, Paris and Prague for a short weekend is not a casual thing. Be grateful for everything your parents are doing for you, and never take anything they have done for granted. I have my awesome (crazy) parents to thank for my abroad experience, I’m forever indebted to them.
Take pictures! Take lots and lots of pictures. Maybe you’re like me and not really the weekly blogger type, but pictures are a great way to look back on abroad and remember everywhere you went and everything you did. (Bonus: abroad Facebook and instagram pictures really rack up the likes, so keep taking them!)
Don’t forget about school. Obviously this tip is not at the top of the list (not that this list is in any order of importance) but keep on top of your work. Finals do exist abroad, and cramming isn’t any more fun in Europe than it is at your home university in the states. Try not to save every presentation, paper, and test to the last minute; you want to enjoy your last couple weeks/days wherever you’re studying. If nothing else, classes helped my drawing skills, check out those family guy characters!! Hit me up Seth Macfarlane!
The most important tip I can give anyone who’s studying abroad is to not waste your days waiting for better ones ahead. Don’t spend your week counting down the days until you’re traveling again or until you’re going home. Studying abroad goes by fast enough; don’t make it go any faster. Don’t wait until the end of abroad to realize how much you love the city you’re studying in. This tip sounds corny but it’s true. I’m even guilty of doing it. I have this problem of not realizing how much I love something until it’s almost over. DON’T DO THAT! Everyday is another opportunity to explore something new or meet a new friend. There are things you’ll miss about America, but when you’re abroad take FULL advantage of the things Europe (or wherever you are) has to offer. Chances are you’re going to be in the states for a long while after abroad, so stop complaining about the lack of CVS’s, ice, and 3G, you’ll get it all back. Buy the $2 wine (which is cheaper than water most places), stuff your face with croissants and tapas, and chill out! You’re abroad, be abroad. Don’t be somewhere else. Live in the moment and be happy with where you are.