In the fall of 2012, Kirsty Davis spent a semester abroad in Waterford, Ireland. Having an amazing experience, she decided to take every opportunity to travel and learn as much as she could. In 2014, Kirsty went on the Study Tour to China, and just recently, this Winter 2015 semester, she completed her final study abroad in Vienna, Austria. With all of these experiences, Kirsty was lucky to make incredible memories with new friends in new places. While living in Europe, she was able to travel to numerous spectacular places: Munich & Berlin, Germany; Salzburg, Vienna & Hallstat, Austria; Bratislava, Slovakia; Budapest, Hungary; Prague, Czech Republic; Krakow, Poland; England & Scotland (all over – including Edinburgh, Lochness, Liverpool & London); Spain (all over – including Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid & Seville); and Porto, Portugal.
Kirsty hopes to encourage other students to study abroad and participate on study tours, to travel and learn about different countries and cultures, and to take every opportunity possible – “even if it means you are only eating toast for the next week, save your money so that you can travel and have amazing experiences, because once you’re there everything is so close.” So, here is her sound advice offered to anyone who is considering study abroad or who is studying abroad soon (or even right now).
13 Things I Learned from Studying Abroad
1) Don’t nap on the first day.
That 20-minute nap will turn into a 6-hour sleep and then you’ll find yourself wide-awake at 3am. I think the best way to stay awake is to go outside or find friends to hang out with. If you stay inside by yourself, the temptation to sleep is too great. On the same topic, if it’s time to sleep and you’re not tired, too bad. Keep the lights off and stay in bed. Don’t get up and read a book or watch TV. You’ll never get back to sleep and you’ll find yourself facing the dreaded nap dilemma again the next day.
2) Material things don’t matter.
You really don’t need that fifth pair of shoes or that second winter jacket. You don’t need more than four forks and knives. You don’t even need a TV or radio. Pack light; take what you really need. Stop accumulating things. (I’m looking at you, pointless, touristy, overpriced souvenirs.) Don’t worry about being fashionable. Just accept that you’ll be wearing the same things over and over. No one cares. Life is more freeing when you have less. Less decisions, less stress, less packing equals more adventure.
3) Say “yes” to everything.
“Want to go to that art exhibition tomorrow?” “Hey, let’s skip class on Thursday and go to Budapest.” “Want to go on a 70km bike ride to the oldest light house in the world?” Yes. Yes. Yes. Who knows, if you say yes enough times maybe you’ll meet new friends, find out that you never want to go bridge jumping in Slovakia again, but that you actually don’t hate haggis as much as you thought you would. Cool!
4) Italian’s eat their bread with their meal.
Not before. Control yourself, fatty. They’ll put it on your table when you arrive, but don’t touch it. Save yourself the judgment from the waiter and other patrons.
5) Talk to strangers and befriend people you wouldn’t normally.
“Become friends with people who aren’t your age. Hang out with people whose first language isn’t the same as yours. Get to know someone who doesn’t come from your social class. This is how you see the world. This is how you grow.”
Some of my favourite memories are from when I hung out with these types of people.
6) Document everything.
Take pictures, keep a diary, send lengthy emails home, whatever it takes to not forget. I’m terrible at writing in diary every day but I found that for me, writing home every week killed two birds with one stone – I kept the parents happy and I had my adventures written down.
7) Make friends with the merchants at your local market.
Who doesn’t like a friendly smile, free samples, and cheaper groceries?
8) Don’t take more than one free sample and not buy.
If you’re going to do this at the market, be prepared for an angry Turkish man to yell at you while waving a giant spoon or a pair of tongs.
9) Studying abroad is less about the “studying” and more about the “abroad”.
If you’re studying your butt off overseas, I think you’re missing the point of studying abroad. Take classes that interest you and plan your class schedule for maximum travel opportunities.
10) Greet people in their own language – they’ll appreciate it and you’ll probably be treated better.
I am absolutely terrible at learning languages. I’ve tried. It’s not in me. BUT I always make sure to learn the following five words/phrases: (1) Hello (2) Please (3) Thank you (4) Do you speak English? and (5) Goodbye. You’re in someone else’s country; greet them in their language. They’ll appreciate it! They’re often more willing to try to speak to you in your language, but at the very least they are always more friendly and more willing to help you.
11) In Europe, don’t try to pack your groceries at the checkout.
Ain’t nobody got time for that. You’ll be facing a lot of angry shoppers. Just dump everything back into your trolley and pack your groceries somewhere else. Sometimes the big grocery stores have a counter area you can use. Also, you’ll need to bring your own grocery bags.
12) European times for lunch and errands are a little different.
In Europe, no lunch break will be shorter than 2 hours. It doesn’t matter if this is in Ireland and you’re waiting to get your living Visa at the Garda, or if you are somewhere in Italy or Spain and just want a bite to eat. And everything is closed on Sundays. Plan your errands and shopping accordingly.
13) It’s harder to come home than to go away.
After a semester of incredible adventures, you‘re back where you started. You’ll quickly realize that you’ve changed but everyone and everything you left behind hasn’t. When someone asks you about your semester abroad, it will be hard to find the words to convey everything you experienced. But later, in the middle of some random conversation, something will remind you about “that time when…” and you’ll have to hold your tongue because you don’t want to overwhelm everyone with your stories and come across as pretentious.
Now you’re set. You know the dos and the don’ts! But prepare to have your own adventures and make your own mistakes – these are what make the best stories about travelling and study abroad!
If you want to read a post about Kirsty’s time in Ireland, you can click here. For more information on the upcoming study tours, visit the International Office or send them an email!