10 Lessons I Learned While Studying Abroad

May 28, 2018

1. Your Plans Will Change, and That's Okay. 

You'll want to plan EVERYTHING before you even step foot on that first plane. I know I did. I allocated a destination for every single weekend and break I had for the semester, and I was determined to stick to it. I did not want to go to Germany nor Rome, but I had to go to Budapest and Vienna. But you have to remember, you need to be flexible. Group mentality is strong in a study abroad group, so I learned very quickly that not everyone wants to do the same thing, and you have to adjust to what the majority wants if you can't find anyone else who wants to do what you do.


2. Different Types of Travelers Do Not Work Well Together.

I didn't realize how much this would impact my experiences on trips, but it is insanely important that you understand what type of traveler you are, and find people who are compatible to travel with. Are you a museum person? 'Cause I'm not. Are you an early bird, or a wake-up-late-party-all-night kind of person? Once you learn what type of traveler you are, you can analyze that and use it to your advantage. I learned too late that a good friend of mine was almost the complete opposite travel-type as I am, and that caused a lot of disputes and tension when we traveled together.


3. Traveling in New Groups Can Be Amazing.

Anyone who knows me knows that I can be super shy. I always have been. I still am. Being abroad has pushed me to get over my nerves and go out of my way to make new friends, and this was super beneficial when trying to find a group to travel with. I was dying to go to Amsterdam, but none of my close friends wanted to go, so I ended up going with a group I had never traveled with. The trip ended up being one of my favorites, and I was really proud that I branched out.


4. Keep Going If Something Goes Wrong.

This goes back to my first lesson I learned, about how plans change. You're a bunch of college kids trying to conquer the world and travel everywhere and do everything. Something's bound to go wrong. You might lose your wallet, have to pay way too much for a hostel, or be rejected by what seems like every ATV-rental in Mykonos. You have to keep going, though. You're still in Mykonos. You're supposed to be having the time of your life and you can't spend valuable time being upset that you hit a bump in the road. Learn to either fix the problem, or just move on if it's unfixable. 99% of the time, you'll forget it even happened.


5. The Term "Broke College Student" Gets Way Too Real.

Yeah, you may joke about being a broke college student as you swipe your prepaid meal card in the University dining hall, but you can't say you've struggled until you've dealt with foreign supermarkets with overpriced food and a disgustingly-high currency exchange rate. I quickly learned how to live on rice cakes, granola bars, and sweet potatoes with peanut butter. I was one of the many students on the trip who underestimated how much we'd be spending throughout the semester.


6. Culture Shock is a Real Thing.

I knew what culture shock was before I went abroad, but I was convinced it wouldn't happen to me. I'm comfortable in big cities, and I've lived in suburban New Jersey and rural Virginia, so I figured I've basically seen it all. The only thing different is the language and the scenery right? Wrong. Culture dictates how people act in a social setting as well, and I wasn't used to much of Europe's "type-A" attitude. Especially for a Hospitality major, I was completely taken aback by the fact that even waiters and store clerks weren't friendly at all, like in The States. I've met friendlier New Yorkers than Italians. For me, this was the biggest hit I got of culture shock, and I believe that no one is really immune to it. There's always something different that'll take you by surprise.


7. You Will Under-Pack and You Will Over-Pack. It's inevitable.

As someone who's been going to sleepaway camp every summer since 4th grade and a rising senior in college who's had to pack for every type of weather and time-period, I STILL wasn't prepared for the packing I'd be doing on this trip. Throughout the semester, we went to a new city every weekend, and had 3 week-long breaks. In the beginning of the semester, my packing skills were rough. I always brought way too many jeans, not enough socks, and shirts that I never ended up wearing. Luckily, it got easier as the semester progressed, and now I can confidently pack for a weekend getaway or a longer vacation.


8. You Must Be Willing To Try New Things.

"Picky" people, beware. That sh*t will not fly when you're studying abroad. First of all, you'll be experiencing new cultures left and right. You can't say you've experienced France until you've tried snails, or Austria until you've tried apple strudel and Coca Cola beer. If you're a picky eater, you might miss out on a big part of the city's culture. Second of all, you're traveling in a group (as I've said for the hundredth time). If everyone in your group wants to go to the Heineken Factory in Amsterdam, but you don't like beer, that might be tough. You might just have to go anyway, and you might just have a great time like I did. The worst thing that could happen is you not liking it. So what? At least you can say you tried it.


9. The People You Meet Will Become Family.

Yeah, this is sappy now. But I'm so serious. You walk into the airport an find the big group of 50 hyper college kids, most of which you've never seen in your life. You get thrown onto the airplane, assigned rooms dorm-style, and start seeing these people every single day. You go to class and eat 3 meals a day with these people. You travel with most--if not all-- of them on weekends and breaks. You laugh with them, you cry with them, you argue with them, and you share EVERYTHING with them, from food, to clothes, to Ubers, to experiences, to memories. 


10. No One Will Understand.

I could talk about my study abroad experience forever, but no one will care after the first 30 seconds. You'll want to tell crazy stories about being stranded in London because your Airbnb host went AWOL, spending an entire day at Hofbrauhaus, or that time everyone in your program rented boats to take out onto the lake. But you can't. You sound like you're bragging. Because even if it's a shambly story, like how the entire country of germany is trying to keep me out, they'll still be jealous you were even there. The director of my study abroad program told me this. You'll have 30 seconds to talk about as much as possible, but then after that, your friend is gonna tell you about their "crazy night" at a frat party. That frat party story will ultimately be more important than whatever you had to say, because that's just how people are. This experience is for you, so it's okay to keep it for yourself.

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