Studying abroad is one of the best experiences a person could have in his or her college experience. Not only does it give you an excuse to take super easy, fun classes for credit and time away from your school, it also gives you the opportunity to really get a chance to explore the world.
Here are some tips you need to know before you leave.
1. DON’T OVERPACK
There will be plenty of places for you to buy things that you need. I’m spoiled and only like to use specific brands when it comes to my hair, which is fine. But don’t go crazy trying to bring your entire life there.
You’ll find new brands and new products that you fall in love with and will just end up buying often anyway. You can buy a hair dryer or straightener that will honestly work better there anyway.
You will be buying so many new shoes and clothing. No need to bring your entire wardrobe. You won’t like it by the end of the trip anyway.
2. Expect Culture Shock
Culture shock occurs when you constantly compare your culture and the culture of the city that you’re staying in. It’s usually a negative feeling of uncomfortableness and is very normal, and, trust me, really does occur.
You may love everything about your city, but there are going to be things that you cannot stand about it. I studied in Florence, Italy and I love the lax lifestyle, but I absolutely HATED how slow the people walked.
It bothered me to no end, and constantly looked like a typical American not taking her time to enjoy the city while I was rushing to class or wherever I was supposed to be.
3. You’ll never look at food the same
There are so many things that we put in food that are illegal around the world. So obviously the food is going to be a lot different and doesn’t stay fresh as long as we’re used to in the states.
It’s not out of the norm to stop by the market every day for whatever you need to eat that day. It’s honestly even better that way. Trust me, you’ll be a lot happier taking time out to walk to the local market every day with some groceries than walk a mile each way to the supermarket and carry 50 pounds of groceries with you home. It sucks. Buy fresh. Buy daily.
The food is going to be amazing wherever you go out to eat. This is not an exaggeration at all. Everything they prepare is fresher than you could get in the States (which is what you’re always going to refer to the US).
Make sure you try new foods whenever you can. You’ll surprise yourself with what you turn out to like. There is food there that you’re going to crave for the rest of your life.
You’re going to find your new favorite snacks and treats that you won’t be able to find anywhere in the states, which is going to be heartbreaking.
You’ll start to cook with fresher foods and adapt to the way they eat. Which is usually really late at night, and NEVER when you’re walking around unless it’s gelato.
Every culture has a set of ways when it comes to eating. You never drink a cappuccino in the afternoon. You drink coffee, espresso, standing up at the coffee bar and then leave. Never use your bread to wipe up the last of the sauce. Things like that.
4. You’re going to change
It’s inevitable, and it’s always for the better. It’s not possible to go away for months at a time in a completely new culture and expect to be the same as you were before you left.
It’s not going to happen. It’s not always going to be fun, and sometimes it’s going to be scary. I remember the day I was leaving, sitting by myself in the terminal after I said goodbye to my family. I have never been so scared in my life. But that was also the last time I have ever been that scared about a change.
You’re voluntarily signing up for the biggest change you’ve had so far. You’re moving far away from everyone you know and love and stepping into a new life for the next few months.
You most likely won’t know anyone there and you’re going to have to start all over. It’s a terrifying process, but I promise you will make friends so quickly (everyone is desperate for friends here, be honest) and they’ll be some of the best people you’ll ever meet.
They’ll be the people who you go out with (get blacked out), see some of the most beautiful countries in the world, have the best food with, cry with when you miss your family, and occasionally go skydiving with. In Switzerland. Out of a helicopter at 14,000 ft. It’s a fun time. And something I NEVER thought I’d be able to do. You’re going to want to jump out of your comfort zone by the end of this trip.
Make sure you try as many new things as you can. When will you ever get the chance to say you’ve done them again?
5. It’s not always going to be exciting
Remember, you’re living there. You don’t have to constantly be going around and doing exciting things. You’re going to have to wake up for classes and you’ll be too hungover to move.
There will be days where you just sit in your apartment and watch Netflix (if you can ever get your Wi-Fi to work correctly). There will be rainy days there where you won’t even want to leave the apartment, so you won’t.
You will get sick at some point and have to navigate yourself around the health system there. You’re not wasting your time.
It’s completely normal. Just don’t spend every day doing that or else you’re really going to miss out on some amazing experiences.
6. You don’t want to leave, but you’ll be ready to go home
It’s the weirdest feeling, but you get to a point where you feel like it’s time to leave. It’s kind of like your time there is up, but just for a little while. It feels like you’re just going to take another weekend trip, just back to the states.
But this time you won’t be coming back Sunday night on the bus. Leaving the city will be one of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do, but it feels so nice to know that you’re going to be reunited with the people you love. It’s the most bittersweet moment I think I’ll ever go through.
7. It’ll feel like it was just a dream
You’ll look at pictures (your Instagram will be full of them thanks to all the pages you follow) and you’ll miss it every day. You’ll see a picture that reminds you of something that happened in that very spot and the feeling you had when you were there.
It’s so strange because you try to remember it and it’s difficult to. You feel like it wasn’t actually your life, and that you’re just remembering a movie you saw. Time goes by so quickly that you feel as if you were never there. But you were, and it was an experience you will never figure out how to describe to your friends (who are probably getting tired of all the stories).
8. Also expect reverse culture shock
Reverse culture shock is SO much worse than culture shock. Coming home is going to be great until it’s not all excitement of your homecoming. Once you have a free moment and start to think about all that you’ve done and how it isn’t your life anymore can bring serious depression.
Watch out for it because it’s not a joke. Coming back home from your new and exciting life back to a mundane existence trying to integrate yourself back into everyone’s lives is not a fun time.
9. A piece of your heart will always be there
It will always be “your city”. Nothing is ever going to change that. It’s the type of thing where it amazes you how much you connected to the city in such a short amount of time.
You’re going to feel like that’s where you need to be in life and remember that you can always go back. And you should go back. You know the city better than most people, and you feel like you were an actual citizen instead of a tourist.
10. You’ll constantly refer to the city you stayed in as “the best city in the world”
Mostly because it is. Studying abroad is one of the best decisions you can ever make. You will never regret it and now is the best time to do it. Have fun, and make sure you do everything you possibly can.
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