When discussing time spent abroad, phrases like “life changing” seem to get thrown around a lot. I knew when I boarded my flight that I was about to embark on a transformative journey, but I didn’t realize just how much of an impact my time abroad would have on me.
I’ve tried to pinpoint just a few of the lessons learned while I was abroad, but the amount of change I experienced is truly indescribable.
1. Appreciate people in the moment.
When traveling and studying abroad, you’ll befriend people from around the world and unfortunately, you’ll most likely depart from one another sooner than you’d like. You’re very aware that you only have a finite amount of time to spend with someone, so every interaction, word, or gesture seems to matter that much more. This lesson is the first in my list because I truly believe that it is, without a doubt, the most important thing that I learned while I was in Europe, and I’m working hard to remind myself of this daily. Going off of this, another important lesson that I learned was to…
2. Choose your battles wisely.
When your time is so limited with someone, you learn that it’s not worth it to start an argument over something minuscule. If you only have three days left with a friend, it’s important to consider how you’d like to spend those days; angry with one another, or laughing and having fun? Typically I found that it was much easier to take a moment, reflect on why I was upset, and then forget about it. I’d prefer to spend my time making someone laugh and sharing happy memories together, rather than brooding over a small thing that was said or done.
3. Stop overpacking.
I know, you probably really need those 12 pairs of shoes for your one week vacation. Trust me, I’ve been this person. I am guilty of nearly bursting suitcases open because I thought I needed a dozen different options to wear on any given day, but the harsh reality is that you do not need even half as much as you think you do. Pack clothing that can be mixed and matched and you’ll find that your life is much easier and you’ll no longer be nervous about the weight limit for your luggage. You may even discover, like I did, that you have far too many things and do some serious closet cleaning when you arrive back at home.
I cannot emphasize this enough. While I do love to travel alone and encourage everyone else to do so as well, I don’t believe that means that you should feel lonely while you’re in another country. Striking up a conversation with your bunk mate in a hostel,or with a woman next to you on a train is a great way to make new friends and potentially get some travel advice.
5. Educate yourself on national and global news and politics.
This is just a good general life tip, but it’s quite important while studying abroad. The U.S. spends a great deal of time in the international spotlight, so you’ll likely run into a lot of people who want to ask you how you feel about numerous issues and news topics happening in the U.S. If you’re up-to-date on current topics, you’ll be able to carry an interesting conversation with someone, and you’ll go even further if you happen to know about some current events happening in their country.
6. Try to understand the metric system and celsius.
I’ll try not to turn this into a rant, but this definitely gets under my skin a good bit. The United States is the only country left in the world that still uses solely the Imperial System and Fahrenheit. If you truly want to become a more well-rounded individual, I highly suggest that you try to learn these things – I promise it’s not tough!
7. Research and understand cultural norms.
Whether you’re observing clothing choices, attitudes, or trying to find out when the locals eat dinner, it’s important to look into cultural norms before traveling somewhere. A quick google search can usually provide the information needed to help you mesh into a new place or understand your foreign friends.
8. Study your geography.
This is absolutely crucial. When you’re meeting new friends from all across the globe, it’s important to at least know the general area that they come from. “Where are you from?” is typically one of the first questions asked while traveling, so it’s best if you can make a good first impression and know where on a map your new friend resides.
9. You can sleep when you’re dead.
This was the motto of one of my closest friends this semester, and it’s certainly something that people had to remind me of on a daily basis. I would sleep all day and night if I could, but that certainly isn’t a way to make new memories or new friends. Sleep is obviously important, but it’s likely that you can spare a few hours to make more time for sightseeing and socializing while you’re abroad.
10. DO. NOT. PANIC.
It is absolutely inevitable that something will go wrong while you’re traveling. Whether it’s a missed flight, a lost passport, or a stolen wallet, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have at least one catastrophe during your adventure. I certainly had my fair share of mishaps while traveling, but I learned that the best thing I could do was keep a level head and keep any freak outs to a bare minimum.
11. You will adjust.
At an SDSU Study Abroad meeting that I attended before my departure, I was shown a chart that illustrated the different phases one will experience while studying abroad. I was told that there is a beginning “honeymoon” period, characterized by feelings of wonder and joy, and overall happiness with my new home. Then, a crisis occurs, you become dissatisfied with your location and want to get out. You’re homesick, can’t understand the language, and you’re thousands of miles from the comforts of home. Following this, the traveler typically adjusts to the new place and begins to enjoy it and truly feel at home. I can say that this chart is immensely true and it is very important to remind yourself of this while you’re abroad. I experienced my fair share of frustrations with Hungary during the middle of my trip, but ultimately I adored the location that I chose and would do it all over again if I could. I got into a bit of a funk, and you likely will as well, but if you simply give it time, you’ll find to love your new home and all that it has to offer.