This is for the lucky ones out there whose study abroad experiences are still ahead of them. I wish someone had pulled me aside before I boarded the plane and given me a heads-up about a few things. So in the spirit of sharing information, just think of me as your friendly, virtual study abroad advisor.
Your roommates might not end up being your BFFs : You’re in a new place, where even simple things like reading a bus schedule or ordering a pizza require concentration (and sometimes a foreign language). It’s natural to want to really connect with your roommates. But keep in mind, these are (in most cases) people you were randomly placed with. There’s no guarantee that you’ll be besties, or even have anything in common. Instead of forcing something if the interest (or shared interests) aren’t there, sometimes the best outcome is to try to be respectful, considerate strangers who happen to live together. Just because you share a bathroom doesn’t mean you have to hang out with each other 24/7.
Get out of your neighborhood: For the first couple of weeks, I only traveled the well-worn route from flat to school. If I thought of going anywhere else, anywhere new, I’d have to recruit a few friends to tag along. I was terrified of getting lost, of wandering into some back alley and getting knifed by thugs (I watch A LOT of Law and Order) or of getting into a situation I couldn’t control. Those last two are valid things to think about; you want to be aware of your surroundings at all times, everywhere. But I wish I would’ve loosened up a bit sooner and realized that a tube station or bus was never very far away, and the likelihood of getting accosted in the middle of the afternoon, surrounded by tourists in Westminster Abbey, was fairly slim.
Don’t forget to be a tourist: Yes, the amazing thing is that you’re living (and grocery shopping, doing laundry, and (maybe) cleaning your flat) in a foreign country. You’ll start feeling like a local in no time. But don’t forget to see some of the major sights. I still get a little sheepish when I have to admit that I never visited Buckingham Palace, or the National Portrait Gallery, or the British Library (jeez, what did I do there?). You’re in the unique position of being a resident and a tourist; embrace both.
Remember, you are (technically) there to study: Not to get all “mom” on you, but there is the little matter of classes you’ll be attending and homework you should be doing. My program was great; there were no classes on Friday so every weekend was a long weekend, perfect for country hopping and exploring. But there will be work to do, so keep one eye on your passport and one eye on your GPA.
All you former-and-current students abroad, any tips for study abroad newbies?
Image by Stuart Miles via freedigitalphoto.net