What to Know Before You Travel Abroad
For those of you about to travel abroad, congratulations! As you know, you’re about to embark on the experience of a lifetime! The UW-Stevens Point Study Abroad programs are some of the best in the country, so lucky you! Follow my 10 travel abroad tips to ensure you have a tranquil, fulfilling experience:
1. Don’t worry about what level you’re in.
We didn’t notice much of a difference between levels (in language semester abroad programs). You’re in a different country. You have to survive day-to-day in a foreign language. Three hours of your day will not define how well your language skills are when you leave the country, so it’s not worth stressing over if you were placed too low or too high. Accept the level and use it as an opportunity to gain as much information as you can and practice as much as possible in class. The true learning will come from outside the classroom; class exists to give you guidelines on how to not sound completely foreign when you speak.
2. Wait to make all your travel plans.
Obviously you need to make certain plans well in advance, but keep room and money saved for excursions with different groups of people. Only traveling with a few people will be fun and easy, but it’s also exciting to mix it up and travel with different people and different sizes of groups as well. One of my favorite excursions happened last-minute with a bigger group of people I hadn’t planned to travel with and it turned out to be one of the best trips I took while abroad.
3. Continuously talk to natives.
The best oral expression class you’ll have is on the street with the locals. Talk to people! When you meet new friends ask to connect on Facebook. They also use apps like Vibr and Line a lot in Europe (free text apps). Sending emails, messaging on Facebook, or texting are great ways to daily use the language you’re practicing. Many times when you return from school, your English likes to creep back into your life. Having locals you can talk with for the afternoon online keeps you busy yet using your new language. It also makes it super easy to ask them to meet up with you for coffee or a night out … which they’re usually more than happy to do!
4. Spend money on travel.
At first it’s going to seem fun to spend a lot of time out at bars with your new friends or shopping at all the new stores … but ten cuidado. It is far more worth it to save your money while in your new hometown for future traveling than to spend it on food, drinks, and clothes where you’re living. Some nights out are fun, but keep your spending within reason when you don’t have to spend a lot of money. It is much more rewarding to go out with locals for extra language practice spending time with them while you’re there or to put the money towards weekend excursions to places you really should visit while abroad.
5. Be on time.
Transportation is never late. Every bus I’ve taken and train I’ve hopped have left the station exactly on the dot. There are times I’ve had to thank my lucky stars we made it on time, because at the time the ticket says the train is leaving … the train is leaving.
6. Rid of your fears, doubts, and aversions.
Make a promise to yourself to adapt to your new surroundings. Getting the most out of the experience will be best achieved if you can let go of any picky eating, fear of stepping out of your comfort zone, and lack of confidence. Fake it! Putting yourself out there will only leave you with a more rewarding semester.
7. Travel once before Spring Break.
If your program offers personal travel time like a spring break, it’s a good idea to travel somewhere at least once before your long-term vacation. The first trip alone is a bit nerve-wracking, so saving this for a small weekend getaway is better than your long term break. It allows you to learn the ropes of transportation, see how you handle yourself when traveling, figuring out what you can and can’t pack, and gain confidence that you are capable of doing it on your own. All this will help you have a smooth and successful long-term break during your program.
8. Travel light.
I’ve said this before in previous posts, but I can not stress it enough. Anything less than a week is totally doable in a backpack. A two week spring break required a small bag and duffel. YOU CAN DO IT. You will thank yourself time and time again for packing light and with few bags when you’re hopping from a boat to a taxi to a plane to a bus to a metro (this was literally one of my travel days). Fewer things means less to keep track of, less to keep secure, and less to haul.
9. You will be stared at. Get over it.
You look different here. People have literally stopped on the street to watch me walk by. For some reason American’s are easy to spot even if they’re mixed races, I’m still trying to figure out why. The best way to handle it is to ignore it and not let it get to your head. I’m pretty confident it’s unavoidable (I wear mostly black and dyed my hair dark, I scream European…but I still get stared at as European-wannabee). And you may want to refrain from saying “Hi!” to everyone you make eye contact with as well, that’s not really a thing in Europe. This was a little depressing to comprehend at first, but eventually I adapted to carry a “European walking face” of utter complacency.
Don’t underestimate the power of a good perch. It’s amazing what you can learn from a culture from people watching. And who doesn’t love to people watch? Definitely make time in your travels to just sit and observe what’s going on around you and how people operate. For one it’s incredibly entertaining and two you get a chance to relax … something very foreign to a U.S. college student. Absorb views as well … pretty landscapes, new architecture, interesting patterns; this is all part of travel too. Glimpses of these things will be what you remember and bring back with you. (I guarantee there will be a European influence on your interior design once you return.)
Absorb as much as possible; this is my number one piece of advice (besides PACK LIGHT). Wherever you are and in whatever you’re doing. This is what you came here for. It’s your chance to be selfish and take time to do exactly what you promised yourself you’d do: travel. Relish the moments you have and experience them fully. You’re coming back a new person, so give yourself time to really discover who that person will be.
Courtney Cerniglia is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point majoring in business administration and Spanish.