After years of getting dragged along with my parents to vacations they planned, I decided to see the world on my own terms through the study abroad program at Chico State. For two months I lived in an apartment in the south of Spain before I backpacked across Europe for three weeks.
Here are my tips for studying abroad:
1. Don’t let a language barrier stop you.
I chose Spain for the weather and classes offered even though I didn’t remember the two years of elementary Spanish I took in high school. With the help of my friends, an iPhone translation app and a pocket dictionary, I managed just fine.
2. Realize you will get lost, and that’s OK.
In Paris my friend and I wandered around looking for our tour bus for two hours. Even when I was miserable, sweaty and frustrated I kept saying, “A day lost in Paris is better than a day anywhere else!” Eventually we found the bus, and the hours we wandered around aren’t even what comes to my mind when I think back to Paris.
3. Create a budget plan and stick to it.
Anyone with a credit card knows how easy it is to swipe without keeping track of the money spent. Figure out the cost of living and then allot money for groceries, drinks and weekend travel so you don’t wind up completely broke before you go home.
4. Go for the length of time that’s right for you.
I would have loved to study abroad for a semester or even a year, but graduating in four years with a double major means a heavy course load each semester. There are programs that go for one or two sessions over summer, and even a few weeks over winter break. Always check with your advisor before going abroad so you can see how many classes can transfer back for credit towards your major or minor.
5. Embrace local customs.
There will be plenty of new things that will contribute to culture shock: cheek kisses, dinners that don’t start until 10 p.m. and no personal space on public transportation. But that’s all part of the fun! My favorite new custom is the Spanish siesta.
Oh, and if you’re going in for the double cheek kiss, turn your face to the left first.