Leaving for your semester abroad is undoubtedly an exciting time. You always hear about all the amazing places you are able to see on weekends. Or maybe you hear from friends about all the friends they made in their program, people from different schools or countries that you would never have known otherwise. Maybe you are warned about packing lightly and making sure to save space in your luggage. Overall, you usually hear a version of how much fun everyone had in the 4-5 months they were away.
Yet, no matter how ready you are to experience this drastic change, this adventure comes with its struggles that are not always as public. Stepping out of your comfort zone for a new culture entirely is exciting yet terrifying. It is inevitable, and completely natural, to begin to miss your school, your friends, and home at times. The time difference does not help things, either. While I ended up having an amazing time during my travels, I do wish I had been warned of some of these things. So, I have decided to help others about to embark on their overseas journey. Without further ado, here are some things I wish I knew before I left Boston for my semester abroad.
Money, Money, Money.
The key to this whole adventure is to budget everything. Money seems to evaporate quickly so allocate properly. It is important to dissect and analyze your travel plans and pinpoint what you deem to be the most important endeavors within your experience. While budgeting, always leaves some extra spending money for that jumpsuit you must have from Milan or that extra tapa you need to try in Madrid.
Plan Ahead, to a Certain Extent.
While an impromptu trip to Paris for the weekend is definitely fun in theory, sometimes leaving everything to last minute has its consequences. Transportation tickets are almost always more expensive day-of, and same goes with hotels or hostels. Most importantly, if you do not try to mark out your months (even it is a loose plan), you will probably not be able to go to all of the cities you dreamed of going to while overseas.
I Wish I Was at Marathon Monday.
Homesickness is real. Despite the false claims, everyone either misses family in Scituate or the sweetgreen right around the corner in Chestnut Hill. Additionally, while immersed in a different culture, it is common to feel alone in the plethora of the unknown. In bouts of loneliness, focus on yourself. Take a step away from the current adventure you are embarking on and practice your go-to method of self-care: turn on HeadSpace, go for a run, FaceTime your dad or just journal for a bit. This necessary and proper time taking a step back will allow you to appreciate your experience more later.
It’s possible to cook without frozen Trader Joe’s meals?
One important component of budgeting is making your own meals. This is an adventure in and of itself. Exploring foreign grocery stores is honestly entertaining and left me with some enthralling experiences. Try new recipes and make mistakes! Pro tip: the Google translate app has a photo feature, so if you see a package of meat with some random Czech on the label, take a picture and get the right translation. This will help avoid cooking ground chicken for a month while thinking it was ground turkey (true story).
I Wonder What My Boyfriend is Doing?
This is a time of discovering who you are alone. Explore yourself in a different setting. Observe how you adapt to cultural changes and logistical struggles. Pinpoint both strengths and weaknesses throughout this journey. While FOMO is inevitable at times, try to stay present in your situation. Don’t focus on what you are missing out on- focus on how you are feeling instead. Frequent self-reflection will be extremely beneficial when you return to life in Boston.
Where’s the Planet Fitness?
Most people study abroad worry about “abroad weight gain.” Is this real? Well, it can be, but do not fret. The abroad schedule is different and you are traveling non-stop so there may be little time to incorporate your new Orangetheory Fitness practices. Yet, if you are a health nut, this time can be made. Your morning walk around the Cathedrals in Seville can be turned into a light jog and your infrastructure taxi tour around Hamburg can be turned into a bike ride. If that’s not for you, do not worry too much, you will be walking around eight miles a day (minimum).
Oh My Gosh, They Have Homework in Other Countries?
Did you forget about homework? Well, yes, the whole homework is an adjustment as well. The teaching styles in other countries are often extremely different. Most other countries assign less work on a daily basis and are narrowed in on a few major exams. It is important to keep on top of ensuring you understand the concepts along the way so you do not have to miss that last trip to the Vienna Christmas markets.
The T Hits Different.
In each city, it is critical to navigate the transportation system. Especially in Europe, it is much cheaper to just hop on the transportation system. This will save you time and money and allow you to immerse yourself in the daily way of life in whatever country of your choosing. Delete Uber and “Mind the Gap.” There’s plenty of transportation apps, so you do not have to be super overwhelmed when you get there! Like anything else abroad, navigating transportation effectively will come over time. Soon enough, it’ll be second nature.