From the seemingly ceaseless jet lag to the influx of international friends, studying abroad is full of new experiences. While all of it is undoubtedly exciting, you find out a lot just your first week living in a new country. Here are my top tips and lessons from the beginning of my journey studying abroad.
People Don’t Care as Much as You Think
We all are familiar with the stereotypes about different nationalities. Upon finding out I was American, I imagined every European thinking just a tad less of me. In reality, no one really cares.
Deep down I feel like I knew this, but experiencing it first hand definitely validated that notion.
Nice people are nice people and judgmental people are judgmental people, no matter where you fall on the map.
Cash is King
Make sure you have cash of the correct currency before arriving. Also, if you have currency leftover from past trips, ensure that it is still in circulation. I arrived in the UK with all outdated currency and now can’t find anywhere to exchange it for me.
While you can use debit or credit cards, banks often charge fees for currency exchanges. Avoid those by simply getting cash or finding out if your bank has an international card that won’t charge those fees.
Bring as Much as You Can (Of the Right Things)
I failed to anticipate the amount of things I would need for my living space. Bedding, towels, hangers, a clothes’ hamper, shampoo, and more I all had to purchase the day I arrived.
Rather than packing all those ‘what-if’ outfits you know you probably won’t wear, pack a blanket or some sheets or hangers. Buying things abroad can really add up and you’ll either have to give it away or ship it home when the semester ends, so pack and purchase wisely.
Know the Weather
I brought three pairs of shorts to London in mid-September. First of all, they don’t wear shorts here. Second of all, as a Floridian, highs in the 60s are far too cold to wear shorts of any kind.
Know how you deal with weather, check the average temperatures for your entire stay (not just that day), and pack accordingly.
Slight Differences Add Up
Overall, London is very similar to the United States. We speak the same language, dress somewhat similarly, and purchase most of the same major brands. However, small differences in the two cultures add up over time.
For example, “are you ok” here means “how are you” and “it’s ok” means “you’re welcome.” In the US, those phrases have just slightly different meanings, so when someone first told me “it’s ok” after I said “thank you,” I immediately wondered, “oh no, what did I do wrong?”
Then there are other things as well such as driving on the other side of the road, and knowing which way to look at crosswalks.
All in all, these tiny differences can become overwhelming, but don’t be afraid to ask questions and be patient with yourself. Enjoy the learning process!
Get A Sim Card Rather Than International Plan
Sim cards are far cheaper than getting an international plan through your carrier. If you’re visiting the UK, you can get a free card through the service Giff Gaff.
These cards don’t allow for international calls or SMS, but they do give you roaming data at a much cheaper rate. This allows you to still use apps like iMessage or WhatsApp to contact your loved ones at home. You can also go about your normal scrolling routines on social media when you aren’t connected to wifi. Win, win.
More is Expected of You Independently
At least at my university, we were babied during orientation week. Here, much more is expected of you as far as creating your schedule, finding your classes, and settling into your dorms.
The classes also rely on independent study more than frequent meetings. All of my classes this semester only meet once a week, however I have more reading to do on my own than at home.
There’s A Lot Outside Your Bubble
Even if you think you know a lot and harbor an open mind, you’ll always be surprised. So far, just in one week, I’ve learned heaps about countless different cultures. I’ve gone out of my comfort zone, realizing I never have to return to it.
There’s a lot going on outside of your circle of people and events. Face your hesitancies and find out what’s out there!
Cover image via Fast Web