Sadly, my time abroad is coming towards its end. The semester has gone by incredibly fast and has been absolutely amazing. These past few weeks have been a good time for some reflection and I have decided to dedicate this post to advice for prospective exchange students — especially those planning on studying in Europe.
“Say yes to activities and adventures that you might not have picked yourself, because you never know how much fun you might have or what awesome people you might meet!”
Make a checklist when choosing your location
At first it can be really overwhelming to decide which city you want to spend an entire semester in; There were so many options that were attractive to me. When I was in the process of narrowing down my selections, I figured out what things were most important to me. I decided that Prague was not only a city that I’ve dreamed of visiting, it was also the most practical option for me. This is something that is likely going to be completely different for everyone, but my advice is to make a list of what characteristics of a program or city are most important for you so that you can choose your best option.
My list was something like this:
- The program offers enough of the classes that I need
- The city is in Europe and centrally located
- The city has its own airport (serviced by Ryanair)
- There is a language spoken other than English
- The cost of living is low-ish
It may seem simple, but these were all important considerations for me and I am happy that I thought of them ahead of time. One of the most important things to consider is how much traveling outside of your home base you want to do and how easy it will be. If you want budget flights, you are definitely better off if the airport has Ryanair. Also, if you plan on doing a lot of weekend travel it will save a lot of time if you are near an airport and don’t have to spend several hours on a bus or train just to get there. Close proximity to other places you are interested in visiting also helps since trains and buses are affordable and plentiful in Europe.
It was purely personal preference for me that I wanted to go somewhere where a different language than English is spoken, but it is important to know what you value when deciding where to go abroad. Prague having a lower cost of living than many European cities has been a blessing because I’ve saved a lot of money on simple things like rent, food and drinks that I have been able to use on other trips.
This goes for almost every part of studying abroad. Being open to new people and experiences is essential. There will be cultural differences everywhere: at school, restaurants, bars, shops, on public transport and just walking around the city. People will surprise you in good ways and bad, and that is all part of the experience. I think it’s a good time to adjust your expectations and adapt to whatever situations you find yourself in — and hopefully keep a smile on your face. Say yes to activities and adventures that you might not have picked yourself, because you never know how much fun you might have or what awesome people you might meet!
Creativity will aid you in all aspects of life abroad. For instance, when faced with 6 people living in a flat with only one washing machine, no dryer and one drying rack we found ourselves a little backed up on laundry. I took a trip to the drugstore and was able to find some simple supplies that allowed me to rig a laundry drying line through our room and quadruple our drying space. We had a similar solution for our lack of closet space. At the beginning of the semester we went on an Ikea mission and bought a plastic clothes rack for less than $10 which also helped immensely with our ability to coexist in a small space.
When planning trips, creativity will also do you well. Check flight websites for flight deals, look at different days or different cities. Check options for buses or trains. Try an overnight bus to save a day, and because you’re young and you can handle it. Compare hostels and Airbnbs. Basically, if you want to go somewhere there will be a way to make it happen.
Leave time for last-minute adventures
It’s very easy to get excited and get caught up in planning all of the different weekend trips you will go on, but there is something to be said for leaving time for last-minute adventures. This will be somewhat based on personal preferences, but know how much back-to-back traveling you can handle, be sure to leave time to get lost in your home city more than a time or two … and leave some time for studying, I suppose.
Reflect along the way
This is something I’ve learned to do when I travel, and I can’t recommend it enough! There are many different ways I like to keep track of memories as I go. One easy way is to keep a travel journal. It’s surprising how many of the little details you can lose along the way if you don’t. One of my favorites is my list of “dumb abroad moments,” where I keep track of all my personal embarrassing moments, and how could I bear to forget about those? Similarly, I like to keep quote lists from every trip with friends. Re-reading the old lists and looking at the old pictures really brings back all the memories of what you were doing and feeling at the time.
Some of my motivation for writing this blog was the same; The more I reflect on my experiences, the stronger my memories will be. My advice on this is to find a way that you enjoy collecting your memories and then follow through with it. It’s pretty amazing to look back over the semester and think about all the places I’ve been and great times that I’ve had.
My final advice is to go. Go abroad, someway, somehow — make it happen!
It’s as awesome as everyone says it is, probably even better. You will have amazing adventures in so many places. You will see landmarks and cities that you can’t imagine or have only ever seen in movies or photos. You will meet people from all over the world, and they may be some of the kindest or funniest people you’ve ever met in your life. I’ve never been happier about any decision I’ve ever made than I am about having spent this semester abroad. My only regret is that I don’t have more time over here. I don’t think I can truly explain it with words, so the only way to find out is to take the leap and see for yourself!
Hayley Chase is a senior majoring in hospitality and tourism management. She spent a semester abroad at the Czech University of Life Sciences in Prague, Czech Republic.