Now that I have officially crossed the halfway mark of my abroad semester, I feel experienced enough to relay information to the juniors who will soon venture off this coming term. The majority of my advice applies to European countries, but I have also included universal suggestions. So, without further ado…
1. Immerse yourself in the culture.
I know how tempting it can be to revert back to lethargic habits during a transition period. Whether this means sleeping in until noon or watching TV for hours on end, I promise you these patterns are detrimental. You are abroad for a reason – to be abroad. Instead of making a bowl of cereal for breakfast, follow your countries’ traditions and eat typical dishes. If you find yourself in a low mood, walk outside! Go window-shopping, or take yourself on a date to a museum. Allowing yourself to fully participate in a foreign way of being will expand your perspective and understanding for those different than you.
2. Plan trips in advance.
When I first arrived in Florence, I was singularly focused on adjusting to the Italian lifestyle. Although it is certainly important to prioritize your daily comfort, try to simultaneously think ahead. The popular phrase, “Abroad goes by quickly,” is common for a reason. You truly only have so much time before returning home. Begin brainstorming cities and countries you would like to visit, and look into forms of transportation early. I won’t go into the gory details, but trying to find reasonably priced planes and trains at the last minute is nothing short of overly time consuming and excruciatingly difficult.
3. Learn the language.
Although many Europeans speak English, (due to the extensive presence of tourism,) it does not mean you should speak English to them. In fact, you shouldn’t. Not only will speaking the country’s language help you develop relationships with the locals, but it will also ameliorate your personal experience. I’ve become friends with shopkeepers, and we share stories about our lives in Italian. Even when I make mistakes or mispronounce words, they appreciate my effort. These types of interactions give me an adrenaline rush. Speaking a new language challenges my brain and allows me to make memories that I would not have experienced otherwise.
One of the greatest luxuries of living abroad is the ability to detach from the commotion back at home. Contrary to popular belief, following all your friends’ updates can be distracting and unproductive. I am the first to marvel at social media’s furthering of universal human connection, but I also value balance. Consider leaving your phone at home. What’s the worst that will happen if you don’t capture that quintessential Instagram? Furthermore, your friends and family will understand why you are not perpetually glued to your phone. They want you to enjoy each moment just as much as you do. Set aside large chunks of time to speak to them so you can keep your texting at a healthy minimum.
Consider following these four tips, and you will surely find yourself getting the most out of your abroad experience.