ABROAD: WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
One night last August I boarded a plane, closed my eyes, and when I woke up I was thrown into three months of the most eye opening, thrilling, and at times, incredibly challenging experiences of my life.
I should slow down. It doesn't actually happen that fast.
Planning to study abroad is a long process, it doesn't happen overnight like the flight that gets you there. Be patient and remain cognizant of what needs to be done, when it is due, and how long it will take. Whether it be applications, deposit deadlines, preparatory shopping sprees (my personal favorite), or visa appointments, plan it ALL out.
The Office of Study Abroad at Fairfield holds its students individually accountable for everything that must be done in order to go abroad as well as the responsibilities you are given once you’re away. Stay of top of all the emails. Believe me, they will send you plenty that eventually end up meshing into one giant blur of information. They love to throw in tiny details that are vital to gaining access to your country of study and include other tasks that will allow for your study abroad experience to go as smoothly as possible.
Academics are often not as demanding as they are on campus at Fairfield. Choose courses that compliment the core or your major. Once you’ve registered, check your class schedule, check it again, and you know what, check it a third time (for me). I learned the hard way. I scheduled myself for a course that doesn't transfer through to Fairfield. I also had an 8 am three days a week. It's important to note as well that if you are planning on traveling on the weekends you will want three days of travel. This means do not take classes on Friday.
DO NOT TAKE CLASSES FRIDAY. Most travel companies depart for their trips at 8 pm on Thursday evenings so also make sure you don't take late classes thursday's either!
Budget before you leave. Most college students do not have unlimited funds. I won't sugar coat it; students spend between $7,000-$10,000 in one study abroad semester so budget per week and for weekend trips. Regardless, everyone runs out of money in the end, but I don't regret a single purchase I made or any experience I had. Reminder!!! In any foreign country there is a conversion rate, the dollar is less than the euro. Always withdraw in large increments of money from the ATM. I say 200-300 euros at a time, that way you can avoid transaction fees piling up for small withdrawals. Whenever you can, use credit, it's great for obvious reasons. NOTIFY YOUR BANK of your travels. You can do this on most bank apps on your phone. The last thing you want is a useless debit card that your bank confiscates for detection of foreign fraud. Yes, it happened to me.
Social Life in Europe is full of intriguing opportunities, go out there and be a part of them! There will always be something going on. Live music, fun happy hour deals, you name it. Just make sure you're not alone and that the places you're headed are safe.
Traveling is nothing short of what people make it out to be. Of course, sometimes things will not go as planned, and when that happens stop for a second, look around you and remind yourself things could be much worse. Being far away from home is strange at first but you’ll find comfort in your friends and the absolutely incredible people you meet. For a handful of students this is the first real adulthood, cooking meals, regularly taking out the trash, grocery shopping, budgeting, being cognizant of your valuables (wallet, passport, laptop, phone etc;). Book trips through Bus2Alps they are super reliable and we befriended a lot of the leaders who were really knowledgeable about the cities we visited. DO NOT FLY RYANAIR. It’s a nightmare. Just google it, no further comments. Country hop! If you have time double up countries on a weekend, everything is close in Europe. Be mindful of your belongings around historic landmarks and monuments. Theft is naturally most common around there because tourists are distracted. Don't go places alone, but also don't travel in massive groups. Groups of 3-6 are ideal. Travel where YOU want to go. This is your trip, so if you want to go to that tiny city in that random country convince a friend and go.
Respect cultural differences. Cultural norms are different throughout the world. By now you should be aware that it is highly disrespectful and insensitive to criticize another country’s way of life. If you haven’t been out of the country, do not be surprised to learn that not everyone speaks English. Even if they do, it also might not be the same dialect as what you are used to in the states. Remember, this does not mean they are dumb. If English is not their first language this means they are putting an effort into learning, it’s actually quite impressive.
In the end, be smart, know your surroundings, respect the country you are in, appreciate the first bite, and always always always say cheers :)
Oh and here’s to you for doing the thing. I promise it will be worth it.