“Travel is the only thing you can buy that makes you richer.”
It’s a statement that – as a self-proclaimed adventure enthusiast – I wholeheartedly believe in. And it was this belief that inspired me to spend not one, but two back-to-back semesters abroad: spring in London, summer in Paris.
It was, undoubtedly, one of the best experiences I have ever had (a sentiment abroad students everywhere will likely echo). But, like all things in life, my time abroad was filled with peaks and valleys, both literally and figuratively. Below, you’ll find my top ten tips and tricks for living, interning and studying abroad. Hopefully they’ll help you have some of the same wonderful experiences I did (and maybe avoid a few panic attacks at the airport, too)…
1. Pack Light: This was some advice I definitely needed, having stuffed my suitcases with everything from my personal library to arts & crafts supplies to 15 (yes, 15) pairs of shoes. If you can, limit yourself to one large suitcase and a small carry-on: the bare essentials. Same advice goes for weekend trips – low-budget airlines like EasyJet will only allow you to take one item on the plane, anyway (and that includes a small purse). And hey, the less you bring, the more you can shop, right?
2. Don’t Procrastinate: Throw on a fanny pack, grab your camera and use your first week abroad to truly be a tourist. Take a ride on the London Eye or climb to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Check all of those “musts” off your list early on – otherwise, you might not do them at all. The “but I’ve got loads of time” excuse kept me from strolling down Abbey Road and seeing a show at the Moulin Rouge.
3. Trains > Planes: This one’s a matter of personal preference, but I’m a huge proponent of train travel. Better scenery, less hassle, more legroom – plus, when you miss your alarm and wake up less than an hour before you’re supposed to leave for Scotland, you actually have a prayer of making your train (a luxury that simply doesn’t exist when flying).
4. Find Your Spot: Whether it’s a restaurant, a speakeasy, a market or a café, when you stumble across a place you truly love, become a regular. Those term papers may seem a bit more tolerable when you’re writing them in a cozy coffee shop, and it’s important to have a bit of routine when studying in a strange land (PS: try the Passion Fruit Whiskey Smash at Jak’s Kings Road for me…).
5. There Is Such a Thing as Too Many Adventures: With so many different countries and cultures just a hop, skip and a jump away, you may be tempted to spend every weekend jet setting to a new city. But travel is a) exhausting, b) expensive and c) will likely keep you from getting to know the city in which you’re actually living. Adventures are great, but – like pastries and Pimm’s – they’re best in moderation.
6. Manners Matter: The stereotype that Americans are loud, rude and obnoxious tourists? It may not be completely unwarranted. Before heading to a country where you don’t speak the language, do a smidge of research to ensure you don’t offend anyone. Translated versions of “hello,” “goodbye,” “please,” and “thank you” should absolutely be part of your vocabulary (or scribbled onto a note in your pocket), and when in doubt, always use a fork and knife.
7. Be Honest: If you’re interning in a non-English-speaking office, be honest with your coworkers and bosses about your ability to speak and understand. Otherwise, when your coworker asks to borrow your phone charger and you confusedly reply “no, this is mine,” they won’t just assume you’re a selfish weirdo.
8. Safety in Numbers, Sanity in Small Groups: A friend of mine suggested I never travel with more than three friends, and—after hearing of the conflicts many friends encountered on group trips—this was advice I’m glad I followed. The less people, the less arguments: simple as that. I even took a couple of trips on my own, and they were some of my favorites.
9. Try New Things: Pretty standard, I know – but important none-the-less. Now is the time to do the things you might not do otherwise, to embarrass yourself in ways you never would at home. Practice your French with locals. Tell strangers they look like Disney princes (you know, hypothetically – I definitely never did this). Give escargot a try. Climb a mountain. Go to a religious service, a ballet, the opera…
10. Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Mean You Should: Yes, it’s absolutely important to try new things. That being said, just because you can…go to Turkey for 12 euro/legally purchase five pitchers of sangria in Spain/do anything in Amsterdam…doesn’t mean you should. Speaking on behalf of parents everywhere, remember that – despite the many castles you may encounter – this is real life, and the world can be a pretty scary place. Regularly check the U.S. state department’s site for potential threats worldwide, and use the buddy system when out on the town. Friends don’t abandon friends in sketchy, foreign discotheques.
The COMmunicator staff if grateful to BU alum and study abroad champion Genevieve Wheeler for sharing her tips and tricks! Now it’s your turn to go out and make the most of your semester abroad!