A few months before we were scheduled to study abroad in England at our respective universities, my fellow classmates and I were given a friendly spiel by our study abroad advisors.
What not to do when we traveled abroad.
The lecture had your usual study abroad tips on how to stay safe, as well as your not-so-intuitive ones, like, “Don’t refer to your pants as ‘pants,’ because in the UK, ‘pants’ means ‘underwear’ and everyone will look at you funny.”
Some of their study abroad tips ended up coming in handy (definitely the “pants” one), while others probably could have been spared in exchange for some new do-nots that I picked up once I actually arrived.
So, here are a few helpful tips regarding what not to do when you study abroad.
1. Don’t parade around your nationality.
This may be hard to avoid, especially since it’s instant conversation fodder. Filling awkward silences with the words “Well, in the US…” can be almost as instinctual as looking left for oncoming traffic when trying to cross the street (something I personally had a hard time not doing once I got to the UK).
This isn’t to say that you can’t make small talk comparing your home country and the country in which you’re studying. In fact, it can be pretty eye opening for both parties involved. Just try to keep an open mind when it comes to making observations — remember that different doesn’t always mean worse.
In addition to this, be especially aware that foreigners, especially Americans, are often seen as an easy target when it comes pick-pocketing and/or money swindling. Do your best to learn phrases such as “how much,” as well as a few basics of the money system, for when you’re taking a cab or shopping in open markets. You will be less likely to be taken advantage of if it seems like you’re familiar with the culture.
Once you realize that not everyone speaks English, it will go a long way for both your interactions with locals and your wallet.
2. Don’t blow off school assignments.
This is perhaps the only one of all of these study abroad tips that was included in my send-off spiel, but I can’t emphasize it enough! It’s so easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of living abroad — trying new restaurants, seeing museums, taking weekend trips. But do you remember why you’re there in the first place? Yeah, that whole school thing? That’s important, too.
Touch base with your instructors as soon as you arrive. Just because your time at your abroad school is temporary doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t put your best-student-foot forward. Learn the workings of the syllabus, as well as when and how you will be tested. That way you can plan your activities around your assignments.
3. Don’t always stick with your own kind.
I realize that this list runs the risk of making me sound very anti-American, but the reality is that everything is better in moderation!
One thing that was a blessing and a bit of a curse was being put in an off-campus flat with all American girls. We had wonderful adventures and we still keep in touch frequently; however, I was never quite fully immersed in the English culture.
Fortunately, my flat mates felt the same way. We tried getting to know non-Americans in other ways, such as going to local shops instead of only tourist destinations and attending organized pub crawls with other international students who lived in our building.
4. Don’t Instagram everything.
(Not an Instagrammer? Replace it with “Facebook,” “Snapchat,” “Vine,” etc.)
Social media is a blessing and a curse when it comes to living abroad. You may not get too homesick when you study abroad because your technological presence will allow you to socially inhabit two or more places at once. But it also means you run the risk of experiencing everything behind a cell phone or a camera lens.
Try to keep social media usage to a minimum while you’re abroad. Take pictures and videos, but don’t do anything with them until the day – or even the entire semester itself – has come to an end. This will give you a chance to reflect on your study abroad experiences by blogging or even scrap-booking.
5. Don’t take anything for granted.
This one’s a catch-22: The more you live in a new place, the more you tend to grow comfortable in it. Who doesn’t want to feel so at home in their study abroad country that they feel completely content just lazing around all day in their sweats? At the same time, you can do that at home. Go explore!
The thing is — get ready for a cliche — nothing lasts forever. In fact, perhaps the best study abroad tip to pass on to others is this: Open yourself up to as many new (and safe) possibilities as you can. Savor every success, but savor every failure, too. Because as most good things go by in the blink of an eye, so too will your time abroad.
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