Embarking on a trip outside of your home country for a couple months can be a challenge for some students. As I prepared my luggage the day before departing to Berlin, Germany, I thought to myself: “This is going to be my longest trip away from home.” Days before, I was contemplating how I was going to adjust to the culture, the language barrier, making friends, and being away from family and friends for a long period of time (in my mind, two months sounded like a year). Upon arriving in Berlin, I checked into a hostel for about 5 days before I could move into my apartment for the summer. Being at the hostel introduced me to the world of travelers all around me. It was comforting to meet people who are also traveling around the world to Berlin. I randomly had conversations with people from many parts of the world. I actually befriended a young lady I met from Australia. Further, I’ve become friends with travelers during my weekend trip to Prague, Czech, which borders Germany. There were times where I felt that I was getting homesick around three weeks living in Berlin. After I took some necessary steps and tips to overcome being away from home, I have embraced the challenge of traveling and being outside of my comfort zone being abroad.
Here are 5 tips for students traveling abroad on how to adjust being in another country.
Step (1)Meet people: Going out and meeting people is a great way to adjust to a new cultural landscape. You will be amazed to see how many people are traveling by themselves and are looking to connect with others who are also traveling abroad.
Step (2)Attend Events: By going out to festivities and social gatherings by yourself, you are looking to make connections with others along their journeys abroad. You will be amazed to hear peoples traveling stories and places they’ve been.
Step (3)Learn the Language: It may be difficult to learn a foreign language if you haven’t had much practice or training. I would suggest for students to try and speak with native folks in their language. Learning key words makes a difference when communicating so others can understand you. It is also a great way for you to connect with native people, and they could show you around the city to connect more with the culture of the country.
Step (4)Find American fast-food establishments: Times where I needed to reconnect with my sense of “American life” I would go to McDonald’s to ease the anxiety of being away from home. Eating ice-cream and filet-o-fish sandwiches at random occasions helped my transition here in Berlin.
Step (5) Go to the movies and watch an American movie in English: I’m far from learning the German language at this point in time. There were times where I felt some social isolation due to the language barrier; however, a great number of people in Berlin can speak or understand some English. Going to the movies has been helpful for me to see American films in English; it made me feel more like I’m at home again. Overall, it is important to partake in festivities and activities that engages you to learn and transition to a new environment. Enjoy the moments and embrace the journey. Traveling has been a rewarding experience for thus far. This is my first time traveling abroad for a longer period of stay. This is only the beginning of my future travels abroad. Who knows, I may want to live in Berlin for a year after graduation.
Before embarking on any trip, a great deal of planning is required. The amount of preparation needed when traveling abroad is double, if not triple, the usual time frame. Personal, legal, and emergency plans are all key components that must be addressed. Considering every single detail that goes into arranging a trip out of the country is a lengthy process and can be quite overwhelming for new travelers. Even experienced travelers often find themselves forgetting or missing a vital component amidst the chaos of everything. Since there is so much to consider, I am going to outline a comprehensive list of useful tips and tricks and key details to remember. These are features that I found extremely useful during my study abroad in Poland. Some of these recommendations I found prior to my trip, while others I found along the way. The pointers I missed beforehand would have helped an inexperienced traveler, such as myself, immensely and I hope this makes your process a lot easier than mine was.
Welcome to Traveling 101: a complete list of things that will make your study abroad a much smoother ride.
A critical, if not the most important, aspect of any trip is ensuring your money is taken care of as your livelihood could depend on it. Here are a few key points of advice in regards to your finances:
Get your money exchanged prior to leaving the country. Most banks can have any form of currency delivered to its location within 72 hours. Instead of dealing with the hassle of exchanging at the airport or high surge charges associated with withdrawals, get your money beforehand.
Don’t bring any currency back unless the exchange rate is almost identical to that of your home country’s or you have a large enough sum for it to mean something. Try to budget accordingly, as most banks will charge a high rate to exchange foreign currency back to the U.S. dollar. It may end up costing you money.
Also, a cardinal rule is to inform your bank that you will be leaving the country so they can add a notice on your account. Failing to do so may result in a frozen credit card due to a banks concern of fraudulent charges.
Airports and Packing:
From someone who was flagged at the airport in Warsaw, do your best to refrain from and practice the following:
Don’t put a lock on your suitcase. The airport security will most definitely cut it off while searching your bag.
Bring snacks that do not contain any ingredients that are common allergies. I only packed an arsenal of Snicker’s bars and protein packs, each of which contained nuts, only to find out that the food was banned due to a nut allergy on the plane. Needless to say, I was rather upset and hungry.
Upon returning to the United States, it would be beneficial for you to check in with your phone. There are multiple online passport apps and websites that allow you to check in through the convenience of your smart phone. You can avoid a significant portion of the line with this.
I used a number of apps during my trip to Poland that helped me on numerous occasions. I would recommend downloading the following prior to leaving the country in case the WiFi is spotty and you need assistance immediately.
S. Embassy Tracker
Items to Purchase:
Believe it or not, there are some items you may want to bring that will not only protect you, but make the entire traveling process easier. If you do not own these, I would highly recommend purchasing them as they helped me immensely:
Neck pillow – those long flights can really put a strain on your neck
Passport protector – don’t be subject to petty pick pocketing
Coin purse – most other currencies have dollar amounts on their coins
Studying abroad can be a life altering, amazing experience. However, just because you go abroad does not mean it will turn out that way. It is ultimately up to you how much you get out of your experience while studying abroad. Here are some helpful tips that will help you have one of the best experiences of your life.
Research your country/city before you go-
One of the worst things you can do when going to another country is try to figure what you want to do as you go. You can possibly miss out on a lot of experiences that way. It is also good to research ahead of time in order to stay safe while you are there. You should know what the main differences are between America and the country you are traveling to in regards to the law, the political/social climate, and culture. This can potentially keep you out of a lot of high risk situations being in a place in which you are not familiar with. It is best to know exactly what you want to do and where you want to eat and what you want to see before you get there. This will help you maximize your time while you are abroad. You will be able to take advantage of every minute of every day.
Save/ Spend Wisely-
Some people run out of money while they are studying abroad. This could either be from not saving enough or spending too much. Try to save as much money as you can and secure as many scholarships as you can well in advanced. SPEA, DEMA, Office of Overseas Study, and many other resources on campus have money that they want to give away so students can study abroad. Take advantage of those resources. Along with this, work as many hours as you can and save as much money as you can for your trip. It will make your trip more enjoyable the less you have to worry about money. While you are abroad, spend your money wisely. Money can go really quick while you are abroad, especially if you are in more expensive places like London or Paris. You need money to live and have as much fun as can. Find the happy medium between spending and saving. It can make the difference between enjoying some, most, or all of your trip.
Have an Open Mind-
If you do not want to experience new food, new places, and new culture, then studying abroad is probably not for you. When you go, try food the locals love even if it seems weird to you. You can always eat McDonald’s once you get home. A lot of times you will surprise yourself with what you like. Try to learn about the culture in the place that you are traveling to. The best way to do that is to get to know the locals. They know what it is really like. Try to experience as many new things as you can. It will change your life!
No one is promised tomorrow. We’re barely promised today. This argument itself should be enough. Studying abroad is an experience we are blessed with on our educational paths. I shouldn’t have to convince you, but I will tell you why I am here on this amazing journey.
I don’t ever want to wish I would have. This past Christmas I had already made up my mind that I was planning on applying for the Ireland program. Nothing beats bragging a little about how well school is going and telling amazing stories to your family. This Christmas was different though. No significant other to rely on for social support, I hadn’t joined any new organizations, and everyone was tired of my pageant stories. The only awesome contribution I could make was, “I’m applying to go to Ireland for the summer!” Just like clockwork, my sister would immediately raise her eyebrows at me and say to the family, “I’m going to Ireland for New Years.” Everything is a contest. My dad picked up on the tension and told us to stop. My sister is 24 and I’m 21 and we still fight like it’s our God-given right. We dropped the topic but not before my grandma made one last comment: “Ireland is beautiful. I wish I would have made time to go.” My heart sank. I was going to experience something that so many people value but never get to experience. It really made me think about how this opportunity was more than just about me. I would have these experiences to tell to my children and would never have to tell my future kids or grandkids that I wish I would have. So if your loved ones can’t do it, you should.
For our Homeland. I’ve never considered officially fighting for my country. Ever since I was little I had a path that I strictly wanted to follow for my life. Growing older though, my experience and view of our world has changed. I seek to help people as much as possible. When thinking about studying abroad, the first thing you decide is where you want to go. Then you take into consideration what you want to study and where you will feel safest. After I chose a few options, my parents had the final say and didn’t really want me to go. They were worried about how dangerous some countries would be. I explained to them that there are a lot of scary things in our world. ISIS and all other threats want us to be scared. So if we stay scared, then they win on a mental level. We can’t stop living our lives because someone says so and if I was in a dangerous situation, I would proudly die for my country. That’s what land of the brave and free represents. We are brave people and we won’t stop living our lives. That is our duty to America.
Go ahead and do it. Studying abroad teaches you how to juggle social life and work. It challenges you to critically evaluate the world. You can always take a vacation to a certain country, but you won’t get the opportunity to learn in a foreign environment that often. Take a chance!
In our first excursion to see the city of London, we went on what they call around here the “Hop-On-Hop-Off” bus tour. On the top of the double decker bus with a live commentator narrating the history of this old city and its magnificent architecture, we drove around the streets of London for hours, stopping at very historic buildings and sites occasionally.
Among the sites, we stopped so the tourists could get a wider glimpse at Westminster Hall. A gigantic, archaic building in the heart of London that houses both the House of the Commons and the House of Lords of the British Government. Numerous books have been written about the history of this building and it’s not something that I can share in only a few paragraphs but here are some interesting facts about the building.
The building was first built in 1090 under King William the Second, the son of William the Conqueror. Although it wasn’t as big as it is today, it was considered as one of the largest buildings in the western hemisphere. In its early years, the building served as symbol of power and majesty of the king, but a few hundreds later, it became a permanent base of the Kings administration under King John.
After becoming a home to the parliament and some of the courts, the Westminster Hall hosted the Trial of King Charles I. For the first time, the King of Great Britain appeared in front of court charged with tyranny and treason. Seven days after the charges were brought against the King, the death sentence was rendered to him and then the execution was carried out. However, after a couple years, many of the judges and the people who were behind the decision were also executed and, for some time, heads were stuck on poles in the Halls of Westminster for all to see. This building also hosted the longest trial in the history of Britain. The former Colonial Governor of Bengal, back then known as East India, was brought to the hall and was charged with 16 charges of corruption. After seven years, and 142 hearings, Warring Hasting was cleared of all the charges. The trial remained to be the longest until it was recently replaced by another corruption charges against a British couple.
The part where the Queen can’t enter:
The Queen of England or any other British monarch is not allowed to enter the House of Commons, which is the part of the Westminster hall due to parliamentarian rule dating back to 1642 when King Charles I stormed the building and tried to arrest five parliament members. To this day, neither the queen nor her replacement, is allowed to enter the building. During the anticipated Queen speech where she talks to both of the houses, the House of Commons moves to the House of Lords to attend the Queen’s speech.
Working or studying abroad is something just about every young, gallivanting college student wants to experience. An exotic location with a different language and new friends is something to look forward to. The benefits to working or studying abroad are innumerous but I’ve chosen 10 (in no particular order) that I think best embody why you should head over the border, overseas or across the pond to broaden your horizon.
Connections- The painfully old adage says, “It’s not what you know it’s who you know.” As much as I cringe every time I hear this, often dripping with nepotism, that doesn’t make it any less true. You need to get yourself in front of as many people as possible. This will not only put a face to a name for future applications, information or references but it will also allow you to fully shape your own thoughts about where you would like to go in the future. The Earth is a big place I’m told and the more people you know, in more places, means more opportunities. Or, at the very least, more places to visit friends.
Difference- Science says experiencing new stuff is good for your brain. Going to a new place, seeing new sights, hearing new languages, and eating new food all expand your ability to think.
Food- You’re going to eat some amazingly wonderful food that you can’t get wherever you live now. You are also going to eat some things that will make you a bit uneasy. You will also eat McDonalds to feel home again. Embrace it all.
Independence- When it’s 1:00 am and you have to get back to your flat and you’re by yourself, it’s up to you to find your route, ask for help and trust yourself with your own industriousness. You can do it, and you’ll do it more once you’re forced to do it.
Appreciation- All the things you hate and love about back home will be put into perspective. You can begin to appreciate how and why you’ve embraced or pushed away from the normalcy of your daily life. You may even buy cowboy boots and Levis to try and feel like your back in Nebraska again.
Extrovertednessism- You can lay on your bed and watch Netflix all day every day, or you can meet new people. Especially when you travel alone, you are forced to make connections you may not have otherwise. It feels good to form these connections and will improve your social skills. Plus, Netflix will always be there. Pro tip: get a VPN so you can watch whatever shows you want.
Functional skills- Buzzwords. Employers want people who can do things. By studying and working abroad, you learn the skills your organization teaches you, working with different cultures and the ability to function in stressful environments.
Resume- Work or study abroad looks great on resumes! It’s exotic and people love to talk about traveling, whether you’ve been to the same place as them or if they make a completely unrelated note so they can expound on their own travels. You know what I’m talking about.
Local culture- It’s different. It’s beautiful. And it may not be here for very long. Soak it in.
Mini-trips- Turn your one trip into many trips and use this as a multiplier for the 9 reasons listed above!
Study or work abroad. Do it. Please. Then tell all your friends about it when you get back.
Ever since attending Indiana University Bloomington I have dreamed about being able to study abroad. I was always envious of the people that did and figured I would never be able to get lucky enough to go. Each year when it came time to apply I would fill out the applications yet never submit them, deadline after deadline passed and finally it approached my summer going into senior year. This was my last chance to get to experience life abroad and I finally decided I would put all my effort into making sure this could happen for me. It shocks me still to this day how much SPEA and IU really do want you to be able to experience this as well, and they’re beyond willing to help make it happen. I am forever grateful to attend a school that cares so deeply for their student’s education and even beyond that, personal growth. Now being here in Augsburg, Germany I feel like I am living my dream each and every second I get the chance to be here.
My first big piece of advice is, of course, GO!!
Plan ahead and make sure to do everything you can to make it happen for yourself, you won’t regret it. As cheesy as it sounds, it truly does change your life.
When choosing to study abroad through SPEA you may become overwhelmed by the number of places you can choose to travel to. There are different places, different class topics, varying time frames and credit hours, and different atmospheres everywhere you go. For most people this will be the only chance they get to be abroad, especially for such an extended period of time. Personally I knew I wanted to stick to a 3-week trip somewhere in Europe. Even that doesn’t narrow it down to one or two choices; there are still many decisions to be made.
I spoke to professors, went to the abroad office, read previous student blogs, and talked to fellow classmates that went on some of the programs in previous years. Everyone has different preferences but it was helpful to set the groundwork to decide what would be the best fit for me so that I still had an amazing time but did not break the bank. I knew the Bavaria and Lombardia program was the right one for me because I was going to get the most out of my experience by studying in both Germany and Italy.
My advice simply is to choose the program that best fits your personality, if you want to experience life in a developing country go with a program like Uganda. If you want to spend time at the Great Barrier Reef choose Australia, there are so many options to choose from that if you put in the time to truly think about it I know you will have the best time of your life studying abroad through SPEA!
My study abroad program was the Bavaria and Lombardia program that took place in Augsburg, Germany and Bergamo, Italy. We stayed in Augsburg for two weeks and Bergamo for one, and it was the perfect amount of time to be away without getting overwhelmingly homesick. In my opinion, experiencing my program in two locations really kept it interesting and the “wow” factor of being abroad never went away since it felt like I was constantly seeing something new.
During the duration of my trip, we had multiple company visits and listened to a handful of guest speakers, both which I felt made the educational part of the trip more enjoyable rather than the standard lectures we regularly attend in the states. It kept things interesting and allowed us to see first hand how these companies conducted their business in their own ways. It is very different than what we are used to doing. The individuals we listened to had different points of view that really inspired us, American students, to broaden our horizons and open our minds. One of the guest lecturers was Irish and his culture made it so that he had a different view of the issues surrounding the EU currently. It was refreshing to be so exposed to multiple cultures.
The German and Italian students in the program were hands down some of the best and most genuine people I have ever encountered. They were so willing to help us adjust to their customs that we were not familiar with. I honestly did not ever think that I would become such great friends with the individuals in my group project as much as I did. These are relationships I will remember and treasure forever because they gave me some of the best memories I could ever imagine. I especially loved how curious they were to learn about the things we do back in the states as well. This truly helped make with making the best out of the whole experience.
Looking back, I am so grateful to have the opportunity to encounter two completely different cultures and languages, and got to see how different they can be even if they are only a few hours apart. Another amazing aspect was the cities SPEA chose were not the big time “tourist” locations and was instead very authentic in their societies. Now, I already cannot wait to go back to Europe, travel more, and recommend to every student at IU or any university to study abroad because it really does change your life.
Being away from the States is something I’ve always dreamed of doing. When the opportunity presented it, I had many thoughts about what it was going to be like. I believed a lot of things were going to be different. Now that I am back, I’m glad things weren’t the way I had always thoughts.
I thought that people would be ruder.
Coming from a small town in Indiana, everyone is always the sweetest. They were always there with open arms, willing to help their neighbor at any time. Anytime I would leave good ole’ Indiana, I realized that people who live in cities lived a very different lifestyle. The faster-paced lifestyle may come off as rude in most cases. I assumed the same considering Dublin is a well-known, popular city. I WAS VERY WRONG. The Irish are some of the nicest people I have ever met. Someone told me a story about how this couple was at the airport and realized they had forgotten to buy their son a certain shirt after seeing a guy walk around wearing it. They asked the guy where he got it from and explained the situation. The Irish man told them they wouldn’t be able to find a similar one in the airport but took off the shirt and gave it to them. The people couldn’t believe. The Irish would literally give the shirts off their backs for anyone.
I thought I would never want to go home.
I knew I would fall in love with the country, but I didn’t know that it would make me love the United States more. During any conversation, the Irish will immediately call you out for being from the States. They would tell you about their adventures and how they wish they could live there. Just talking to someone who wants something you already have makes you really appreciate where you come from. I have not stopped feeling the American pride those conversations made me feel. And coming home and celebrating Independence Day will never be the same again.
I thought I would be scared.
I was nervous about traveling, but besides that, I never felt uncomfortable. The Irish hospitality is amazing and I felt comfortable talking to everyone. I thought it would be scarier because of many factors. For starters, if you haven’t watched Taken before you leave, you aren’t ready to leave. Then, parents think they can scare you to death before you leave. They are just concerned and want you to be safe while abroad. In actuality, being scared before you go means you don’t have to be scared when you are there. You have been coached on how to be abroad and you don’t need to stress. All that prep makes the trip a million times better.
Even though these were all just thoughts, I am glad things went differently. I like to be surprised and everything I found was a great surprise!
My abroad trip to Germany and Italy completely changed my life. It changed my views, my appreciation for the small things, and what I want out of my future. As cliché, as it may be, studying abroad is the best decision you can make in your college career. It is one of those things where it really is a “you never know until you try” situation.
My biggest suggestion is to break through the barrier of fear and visit less well-known cities or countries. Most people feel more comfortable going to places that they have heard of or know other people who have visited. But it was so rewarding for me to go to destinations I have never even heard of because I felt like it meant I was getting the most out of the local culture. Instead of every downtown having mostly tourist places or even American shops, I went to native boutiques and shops that sold homemade soaps, clothing, bakery items, instead of ones that sold key chains and logo shirts.
The scenery is so beautiful and each and every street you walk down is different. I encourage you to put an effort towards leaving earlier so you can get the chance to walk rather than always taking public transportation. This will allow you to closely observe the architecture, people, and the city from a different view than a bus window. This way, you have a better chance of discovering new places to return to!
My next suggestion is to try the local food even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone. Even if you hate it, isn’t it cooler to say you did something like eat snails in Paris? I mean what is more cultured than that!? There were multiple occasions where I ordered something I would normally never like and ended up ordering it again at other restaurants because it was so good. It is even fun to order something you can’t read because of the language barrier. Don’t let this lead you away! If the menu is not in English, take a chance, order something new, and the workers will be more than willing to help you out.
Last but not least, put in an effort to make friends with the classmates from the home country in your program. Our program consisted of German, Italian, and American students. At first, I was hesitant to make an effort to attempt to make conversation, but it was by far the best choice I made on my trip. The German girls in my project group became some of the best and most genuine friends I have ever had. They were so helpful, caring, and they are people I will never forget for the rest of my life. Study abroad was the best thing to ever happen to me, and I am so lucky to have had such amazing individuals to share it with.
SPEA International Office, 1315 E. Tenth Street, Suite 201, Bloomington, IN 47405, (812) 856-0796