I thought that moving to Paris to study abroad for five months would be like fall of my freshman year: Sometimes you hear horror stories, but for the most part, people are great. I had already met my roommate, I arrived without losing any baggage, and my adorable apartment was in a building above a café. What more could a girl want?
I was ready to polish my speaking skills, conquer the big city, and learn something.
I returned home from France with more wisdom and appreciation of home. I no longer consider consumer culture a bad thing—in fact, it’s kind of nice that if I need to go to a grocery store on a Sunday, there’s one open. I relish the thought of running outside without getting funny looks. I love that I can talk to my friends and family before evening.
That being said, I miss things about Paris, too. I miss the baguettes and the café downstairs. I miss the shopping and the bustle of the big city. I miss thinking in French and surprising the natives with how well I could express myself.
I learned a lot in those five months of my study abroad education, that’s for sure. Here are some tips that will help you fit in as you become more like a native and less like a tourist.
• Be aware of what you wear. Some countries are more conservative than the U.S., and certain types of dress can provoke unwanted attention.
• Bring your own peanut butter. Just as you learn the language of the country you visit, you’ll learn the food, too. It may be difficult to find familiar foods from home.
• Be aware of your voice. Normal noise levels vary from country to country, as do accents and the speed with which one speaks. Adjust your decibel level to match, and embrace the accent of wherever you are—it makes you much easier to understand.
• Be open to the history of your surroundings. If there’s a class offered in local history, take it!
• Get out and travel. It’s easier to explore otherwise out-of-the-way places when you’re on the same continent.
No matter where you study abroad, take advantage of what is offered. Teach your teachers, learn from cab drivers, have discussions in coffee shops with locals, make friends with the waiter at your favorite restaurant. They will all be able to enrich your education experience.
Don’t be afraid to live your study abroad education outside your comfort zone—you’d be surprised at how big it can grow!
How to travel when you're abroad:
Trains, planes and automobiles
Check into the laws and parking protocols of different countries if you want to rent a car. It’s easy to travel Europe by train. Consider getting a rail pass, such as the Eurail (for Europe), if you plan on traveling a lot.
A place to rest your head
If you have other friends studying abroad in different places, talk about spending a weekend at their place. Be prepared to return the favor. Hostels are another good option for a traveler on a budget.
Although you’ll have to bring your passport, also get yourself an International Student ID Card (ISIC). It’s recognized everywhere and gets you discounts for some museums and travel.
Bonjour, hola, bonjourno…
It may seem difficult to learn a new language for every place you visit. But you’ll impress if you ask for a table for two in the native language—or just know how to say hello, thank you and goodbye.
Learn from the locals
Your guidebooks will steer you right in most cases, but some of the coolest things are not in print.
Places not to miss
Munich, Germany: Mike’s Bike Tour
The tour is led by native English speakers and takes you on a hilarious and historical ride through the city, with a stop at a beer garden in the middle of the English Gardens.
Bay of Naples, Italy: The Island of Capri and the City of Pompeii
This island in the Bay of Naples hosts gorgeous waters, the Blue Grotto, and a one-person chairlift up to the top of the highest peak. The ruins of Pompeii are open to visitors, and hiking up to the top of Vesuvius to peer in the crater is a one-of-a-kind experience.
Paris, France: The Latin Quarter
Of course, when in Paris, you have to go up the Eiffel Tower. But don’t forget the Latin Quarter. The tiny winding streets between St. Michel and Notre Dame host a myriad of great, inexpensive restaurants and shops, and getting lost in this traditionally student area is a lot of fun.
Dublin, Ireland: Temple Bar
This area in Dublin is known for its lively nightlife, but the pubs open up early in the morning to serve traditional Irish breakfasts as well.
London, England: The Tower of London
One of the more popular tourist stops in England, the Tower deserves its fame. A sprawling expanse of buildings and grounds, with museums dedicated to the Tower itself as well as to the history of arms, give visitors plenty to do.