Major: Global and International Studies
Summer in Lyon, France
My study abroad program has now been finished for two weeks and I have safely made it back home to the good ol’ U.S.A. I have had a lot of time to reflect on my trip and all of the things that I have learned on this and my other study abroad trips. Before you leave, all of your concerned friends and family will offer any tidbits of advice they can, but nothing will prepare you for the life changing journey that studying abroad will be for you. Some lessons also just have to be learned the hard way, through trial and error. I’ve compiled a list of all the things I’ve learned during my time in Europe in the hopes that my advice can help any other future study abroad students!
Tip 1: Buy your adapter once you’re in the country.
I have saved so much money with this trick. Most of the time you can find an adaptor in your average souvenir store. Of course sometimes you could be getting a faulty adapter, so I would suggest buying one beforehand in the U.S., but keep the receipt. Before my study abroad trip I spent $30 on a brand new adapter. I then found one in a souvenir shop during my trip for $5. Upon my return back home I returned the $30 adapter and the $5 one is still working perfectly for me.
Tip 2: Budget for emergencies, if something can happen, it will happen.
You can budget until you have every cent you’ll spend planned out. But then, you’ll need to buy a metro pass, or you’ll miss your flight, or you’ll have textbooks to buy at the last minute. During my first week in France I had to spend about 150 euros for things I was not planning on. Plan for the unexpected, the last thing you want to do is be stranded in another country with an overdrawn bank account.
Tip 3: Say yes to as many experiences as you can, even if you’re scared.
You didn’t pay thousands of dollars in tuition and plane tickets to sit around and watch Netflix. Use this time to find yourself and do things you normally wouldn’t do. You should especially try to meet new people outside of your group. It is often these people that can bring you to new adventures. I for one hate small talk and meeting new people is terrifying, but by studying abroad I have had the opportunity to meet interesting people from across the globe who have taught me their language, culture, and changed my perspective on the world in ways that I never could have learned in a classroom.
Tip 4: If you’re staying with a host family, memorize cultural norms before you even get on the plane.
I thought I would have enough time to review common French phases and etiquette during my four-hour layover, I was wrong. This resulted in a weekend of awkward silence and frantic googling. There are many youtube tutorials on etiquette in other cultures, which means you can avoid monotonous reading AND avoid becoming the “ugly American abroad.” But your host family will likely be understanding about your errors and it’s important not to stress too much about what you’re doing right and wrong. You should instead be living in the moment and enjoying making a connection with your new family.
Tip 5: Don’t have wild expectations.
It’s not uncommon for people to go into a study abroad trip thinking that they’re going to come out of the program an entirely new person or that all of their problems will be solved inexplicably once they become a glamorous traveller. We all have the same issues; the only thing that changes is scenery. Traveling is not a fix all cure, but it can broaden your horizons and you might not be an entirely different person, but you will feel like you’ve changed in some way after you return. Take the experience for what it is and know that some days will feel like a dream come true and other days will be difficult, just like they are back home. During my study abroad trip, I was able to go up in the Eiffel Tour, one of my biggest bucket list goals. I swam in the Rhône River and ate some of the finest cuisine in the cooking capital of France. But I also had days where I had to hole up in my room and work on homework, or I felt homesick and missed my family. Everything can’t be perfect all the time, because that’s not realistic. But you have to take life as it comes to you during your study abroad and fully experience the lows and the highs for what they are.