8 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way While Abroad

Tags: Study Abroad,London,lessons abroad,tips,Independent Travel,2015

Life is all about learning from your mistakes. In this case, you can learn from mine and spare the mess.


#1    Your feet go through their own little culture shock

I always thought I was a relatively active person, before arriving in Europe and exponentially increasing my step count to a million. That whole first week of suddenly walking EVERYWHERE had my roommate and I debating whether our feet felt more like they were being bound or slowly morphing into stubs. Even if you come from a large city stateside and are used to commuting on foot, be prepared to add on extra miles from getting lost, complete with foreign signage and bumby cobblestone streets. Wear good walking shoes, especially in places like Rome or Barcelona, and just remember: it's all part of the experience!

(Don’t worry: your feet won’t be in pain long. Just like regular culture shock, they will adapt!)


2.    You’re still in school

Thought living overseas in your dream city for a whole semester while getting school credit was too good to be true? Well, that’s because you still have to earn the school cred, an important fact that quickley becomes easy to forget. Make sure you set aside study time during the week. Nobody wants to retake Art 101.


3.    Feel Free to Wander

Getting lost can be a great thing! We all had times where leaving the room or going off on our own was too much of a stretch for our comfort bubble. Don’t be afraid to venture into those quirky looking markets, take a stroll around the neighborhood between classes, or try out a new route on the bus one morning (that is, after you’ve gotten the hang of public transportation.)


4.    McDonald's Hours Vary by Location

This may be biased maybe, but I've found that nothing is more upsetting than discovering that, after walking a mile to cure those late-night post-bar cravings, the McD’s in Chelsea closes at 10pm. NOTHING. Thankfully, you'll find that almost all of Europe's destinations are lush with late-night pizza stands and the freshest kebabs around make the perfect--and more internationally suitable--substitute.


5.    Know basic phrases before visiting foreign countries

This moment of ignorance screwed me over during my first weekend trip visiting friends in Italy. It was as if I’d assumed I was going to arrive at the Florence train station to find a huge lit up sign saying, “Your friends are this way! -->” But no, instead tons of signs popped in front of me with “kfdhjskfhzmfajwh. Ciao.” printed across them. I found my group eventually, but felt silly for not even considering this huge factor of visiting another country. Although English is nowadays way more often spoken in the touristy spots around Europe, make an effort to learn the basics. People are more helpful and understanding when you try, even if your attempts are dreadful. Your respect will be appreciated.


6.    Leave the passport at home during your night out

TG this didn’t happen to me, but it did to a couple of friends. After a couple drinks, it becomes easier to clumsily leave behind these important items in the cab. While most times you should keep your passport and visa close by, I recommend stowing it when heading out for a night on the town. If you’re on the ball, keep a copy of your first page and visa page with you so it’s no biggie if you lose those. The passport replacement fees aren’t pretty! And who wants to spend half their weekend stuck in the US consulate trying to get a new one?

7.    Hidden treasures may be right under your nose!

The weekends are the best time to jet across Europe and explore new destinations. However, don’t neglect the country in which you’ve been living! In London, I became too preoccupied with packing in as many other countries into my weekend itinerary as possible to consider hopping a train within the UK. It wasn’t until the final 5 days prior to heading back home that I discovered incredible locations such as Brighton and Oxford. Travelling to various regions will allow you to gain even more perspective on your temporary home country, which is incredibly rewarding!


8.    Keep a journal

My biggest regret. The adventure of studying abroad might leave little time to record said adventure, and those blog posts you promised Mom become way harder to keep up with (I think I lasted 15 days, with a whopping total of 2 posts.) But trust me, once you take the time to jot something down, even if only a couple sentences about your day or a random thought, the opportunity to look back and reflect on those memories will have so much value later on.

     Despite these things that I wish I could have dealt with differently, studying abroad was still one of the rewarding and invigorating experiences of my life. Much of the learning will take place outside the classroom, so take it all in and enjoy every moment!

- Tessa 
WSA Team


Pauline Blatt, University of Notre Dame

Happy Backpackers

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Pauline Blatt, University of Notre Dame ~ Notre Dame Global Gateway, Rome, Summer Break 2016

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