Monday, October 12, 2015

Do's and Dont's of studying abroad

Today is my 7th week abroad, which means I'm about halfway through my abroad program. I just got back from an incredible trip through Galicia (photos below!) and am trying to get through a million homework assignments before tomorrow. Although the halfway point is a little bittersweet, I have an incredible, 10-day trip booked at the end of my stay, a trip to Rome and possibly a trip to Berlin, so I'm so excited about the rest of the semester. I'm also feeling a little better adjusted now, so I thought I'd share some of the things you absolutely must do (and not do) before/during/after studying abroad.

what I'm wearing:

under the monochromatic rain gear:

sweater (old, similar here) // sneakers

1. DO study up on slang, holidays, and customs. 
There are books specifically meant for foreigners that explain the customs of the country in which you'll be studying and I'd highly recommend getting one. In Spain, for example, the schedule is completely different from what we're used to in the U.S. People greet each other differently, family structures are different, shops close in the middle of the day for siesta- basically a lot of things that caught me off guard when I first arrived. Read up before hand so you don't experience too much of  culture shock.

2. DON'T be afraid of making errors.
Admittedly, there are some people who will give you weird looks for using the wrong verb tense or who will roll their eyes while you struggle to convey a thought. Ignore them- they're just being rude and inconsiderate. Try your absolute best to speak the language and conform to local customs, but if you mix up similar verbs or mispronounce some complicated item on a menu, it's ok. Do you get annoyed every time a traveler visiting your home city misuses a word? No? Well then it's probably not the end of the world if you do the same.

3. DO bring your own peanut butter and granola bars.
Ok, a little silly, but hear me out on this one. I love trying new foods and being in a country where daily trips to cafes and tapas bars are the norm is amazing (not so much for my arteries, but they'll survive). That being said, traveling on weekends is exhausting and sometimes I just need a protein bar while I run through the airport. As much as I love patatas bravas, sometimes I'd rather have an apple with peanut butter or a salad. Some items (like nut butters and granola bars) are not only super hard to find in a lot of foreign countries, but they're really expensive. You may have better luck in bigger/more health-conscious cities, but stock up and bring your own for the semester because you will want them.

4. DON'T just do what you do at home.
I know so many people who go abroad with practically their entire sorority/fraternity and spend the whole time throwing up letters in touristy spots without ever trying to speak another language, talk to a local, celebrate a holiday, etc. At that point you might as well have stayed in the U.S., so actively try to immerse yourself in the culture and step outside your comfort zone!

5. DO give yourself some breaks. 
Stay in one night and watch Harry Potter with a tube of oreos. I know I just said not to do what you do at home, but being outside your comfort zone 24/7 is exhausting! I'm living with a host family, taking all my classes in Spanish at the local university, ordering my daily coffee in a different language, conforming to a schedule that's totally different from what I'm used to, and eating foods completely different than what I usually have. I have to be 'on' from the time I wake up every morning until the time I go into my room to sleep, and that's a lot. Go ahead and cut yourself some slack every once in a while- hole up and give yourself a taste of home.

6. DO enjoy every minute of it!
Studying abroad has ups and downs- sometimes you'll be looking around and thinking "How amazing is this?! I'm basically on a 4 month long vacation! I'm so ~cultured~ and sophisticated." Other times you'll be sitting in the library asking for a book on the economic requirements for entry into the European Union and trying to finish an 8 page paper on a novel by Miguel de Unamuno before you head home to a dinner that is so awful you'll have to pretend to eat and then have rice cakes in your room and you'll think "My life 100000000x worse than it would be if I was just back in the U.S. right now." Even so, living and studying abroad is an amazing experience and one that not many people have. Take everything in stride and remember that not everyone's entire abroad experience is "perfect", despite what their Facebook albums suggest.

Yasi "Is it acceptable to go to bed at 8:30?"

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