Journalism junior Erica Husting (1-5) and business administration junior J. J. Jenkins (6-10) both studied abroad this fall quarter – Husting in Italy and Jenkins in Spain. These are the lessons they took away from their time abroad.
Lesson 1: Don’t freak out — culture shock is normal.
From the moment I stepped off of the plane, culture shock hit me hard. I realized very quickly that, yes, I was indeed in another country, around people who spoke a different language, who lived in a completely different culture.
The first few weeks were hard, and I found myself struggling with language barriers, differences in customs and finding my way around the city. I wasn’t as prepared to live abroad as I thought I would be, and this scared me.
But then I realized this was a normal part of traveling and beginning to live in a different country. By week four, things clicked. It was like my frame of mind shifted, and I entered the adaptation phase of culture shock. I started to slow down and appreciate the sights and sounds around me, and began to embrace, learn and live in the rich culture around me.
Lesson 2: You have to be flexible.
After missing countless buses, getting lost in the middle of nowhere, being locked out of my apartment in the middle of the night and arriving at museums well after they had closed, I have learned this: not everything goes as planned, especially while traveling.
Life happens, and there are two ways you can respond to it: You can either dwell on what might have been and miss out on the present, or you can look life straight in the eye and embrace what is in front of you. Humor yourself, laugh at the bumps in the road you encounter and, most importantly, embrace the change in plans.
Lesson 3: I am an independent individual.
After moving away from home and to college, I always viewed myself as an independent person. But when you’re 6,000 miles from home and separated by the Atlantic Ocean, you have to be a different kind of independent. You are on your own. Yes, your support system is just a phone or Skype call away, but you are thrown into situations where you have to power through and navigate and solve problems yourself.
When I came down with bronchitis while in Rome, I learned I could be an independent adult. My family was there for support, but it was on me to find an English-speaking doctor, travel through Rome to find their office and seek out a pharmacy. That whole event taught me that I could survive on my own and function independently.
Lesson 4: It’s OK to be spontaneous.
My mom used to tell me, “Take your cookies while they pass.” In other words, take an opportunity while it is presented, because you never know if you will be met with the same opportunity again. I never realized how true this statement could be applied to studying abroad. My theory: If you have the time, the slightest interest and the feeling you might regret not taking an opportunity, you should push all doubts out of your mind and just do it. Theory applied: On a whim I booked one final trip to Dublin, Ireland two days before finals week. I knew I would regret not traveling one last time, so I pushed all common logic out of my mind and booked my flight only twenty minutes after casually suggesting the idea with some friends.
Crazy? Maybe, but I know it will be worth it.
Lesson 5: Unplanned adventures are usually the best ones.
No map? No plans? No problem. I came to learn early on that some of the best adventures happen when I had absolutely no idea where I was going or where I would end up. Rome is such a complex, expansive and yet intimate city. Windy streets and intricate side alleys make Rome the perfect city to go exploring in. You never know what you could stumble upon and find.
Some of my personal favorite adventure finds include: a gourmet chocolate festival, a tiny staircase tucked into a tiny side street leading to the most beautiful view of Rome I have seen, a gelato shop with 150 flavors or the well-talked-about gourmet cupcake shop I had heard about, but never got the chance to find (on purpose, that is).
Lesson 6: Meet the locals.
Information is power, and the best place for information on a city are the people who live there. Neighbors, teachers and even the random person you met at the pub all have an inside scoop on where the cheapest drinks are or where you should visit on a spare weekend.
I found that simply watching soccer matches in a random bar on our block was a great cultural experience and, if you aren’t shy, a chance to practice some language skills. In those situations, I was able to pick up more colloquial terms and learn the dexterity of the word “cabrón” in Spain. Google it.
Lesson 7: Get a taste of home.
I don’t think I was ever subjected to traditional “culture shock” during my time in Spain, partially because I had just spend the summer in China — an experience I would describe as culture electrocution. In both locations it was critical to get some time to myself at the apartment and relax like I would in the States.
For me, watching “The Daily Show” was always a good respite and kept me in touch with the election in the United States (plus, it was much more bearable than cable news). Despite the awkward time difference, it was possible to Skype or Facebook chat with family and friends, which is always good when you have a moment to spare.
Finally, literally getting a “taste” helps too. Whether it’s Starbucks or a juicy Big Mac (don’t judge me; they don’t have In-N-Out), getting a typical American meal once in awhile was a good pick-me-up.
Lesson 8: Travel, but not too much.
One of the great things about Europe is its proximity to so many cities and attractions, all situated less than a three-hour RyanAir flight away.
Normally, you can get anywhere in the region for less than 60 euros round trip if you plan in advance, which makes it tempting to travel every weekend.
However, one part of studying abroad is getting extremely comfortable, almost to the point of being a local, with your city. Be sure to hit up amazing historical sites like Rome and London, but don’t travel just to party elsewhere. Plus, once you spend enough time in your city of choice, you’ll start being able to direct visitors to the right place when they ask you on the street.
Lesson 9: Leave the data behind.
Having spent four of the past five months without a data plan on my phone and hardly using it for calling and texting, I must say it’s a huge plus when you’re abroad. The distracting buzzing, ringing and temptation of on-the-go Facebook-ing disappears, and you’re left just enjoying the city and people around you. Data plans in Europe aren’t terribly expensive, but the bliss you receive without having to think about that last email or Twitter update more than compensates for the lost convenience.
Lesson 10: Take pride in being a tourist.
It took me a long time to come to this realization. Tourists are often looked down upon for always snapping pictures and getting in the way of the normal flow of things, but if you do it right, being a tourist for the sake of it can be fun.
I assure you that you don’t need a picture of every piece of art in the Vatican museum or every nook and cranny in La Sagrada Familia, but pick your favorite couple of spots at each attraction and have someone else (preferably another tourist) snap a picture of you and your friends. It’s great for memory preservation, posting on Facebook (to keep your mom from worrying about your well-being) and it’s infinitely less expensive than a silly souvenir.