Hello everyone! Having spent the past five years living abroad in Scotland attending university, I have met a variety of wonderful people, seen some amazing things, and honestly… struggled! I thought I would share some tips that I have tried and tested over the years, and how to avoid mistakes I have made and seen others make. I have seen Americans do some pretty embarrassing things, and I have shamelessly pretended I was Canadian to strangers on the street to avoid being grouped with them! I don’t want to do that! Studying abroad can be a wonderful experience, but please make the most of it and remember to have fun!
1. Develope a sense of humor pronto!
Hate to break it to you America, but the rest of the world thinks we are crazy and downright awful at times. And you know what, there are some crazy and wonderful people stateside- there are so many of us, it is impossible to avoid! People will make jokes, try to draw you into political debates, and compare you to stereotypes of gun slinging rednecks. REMAIN CALM, don’t take it personally, and remember to think about how we look from the outside.
2. Don’t hang out with other Americans, please!
This point will depend on the duration of your stay, or if you are traveling with friends from home. But if you are staying abroad long term, please do not form an American clique that never spends time getting to know the people who are from other places- you will be missing out, and reinforcing a stereotype. You are abroad for a reason! You can spend time with Americans when you go home! And yes there are exceptions, I met two wonderful girls during my masters degree from the states, who also recognized how important it is to take advantage of opportunities to meet people from all over the world.
3. You have no rights as a pedestrian- stay out of the way!
In most places (especially in Europe), you have no rights as a pedestrian- you yield for cars. So don’t charge out into the crosswalk without looking. You will be hit. I would probably have died my first year if it was not for my two best friends who looked out for me when I was not paying attention. And please, if you are a slow walker or are looking at a map/phone, step off to the side of the pavement. Nothing is more infuriating that being late for work because you had to dodge ten tourist groups.
4. Keep talking to your family at home.
You may think your mom has ESP, but I guarantee it will not reach across an ocean! Keep in contact with your parents or family, because it is important! If something goes wrong, you will want the support and help they can provide. I still try to skype with my parents once a week for a few minutes, so that we can catch up on what is going on with eachother. Everyone has Skype, and if your parents don’t, set it up for the before you leave. Want to call a grandparent? The Skype phone credit is pretty cost effective, and easy to throw $20 on last minute.
5. If you need help, ask.
My experience in Scotland, was that if I needed help finding something, going somewhere, or just needed to have a chat, all I had to do was ask. Most people are friendly, and understand why you don’t understand road signs or can’t find a class. Ask a friend, or ask your university- most European universities have services for help that come with no attached stigma, and are valuable resources if you feel overwhelmed or don’t know what to do about finding a doctor, or accomidation. And if you need help, ask before things get really bad. You do not have to be alone, and as you go on you will become more comftorable and at ease with your surroundings.
6. Bring hot sauce.
Okay this sounds crazy, but I am addicted to Tapatio and smuggle in bottles of the stuff every time I head back. Chances are your favorite American treat is not readily available, so pack some of it up and take it with you! Especially the hot sauce.
7. Change how you eat.
Remember, things that may be cheap at home are not always cheaper in other countries. If you can afford to eat what you want that’s great, but if you want to save some money or cut your budget, look at what the others are buying, or what is locally sourced- it will be cheaper.
8. Do things by yourself!
It is very empowering to be abroad and independent. Go have a coffee and read your book by yourself, take a walk in the morning alone. Cook for yourself. Enjoy the little things. Friends are great, but no one wants a friend who is incapable of doing anything by themselves at some point in time! You do not need a gaggle of geese to go with you to buy toilet roll.
Don’t lose sight of why you came abroad in the first place! Was there a program you had your eye on? Was it the local culture? To travel and see the sights? I know I always have my eye on museums and archaeology wherever I go. It is so easy to get caught up in details like sorting out your bank details, waterproof shoes, and that hangover from the night before when you tried to out drink your new friends. And please, have fun- just don’t forget your priorities.
10. Take your common sense with you!
A dark alley is dangerous no matter where you are in the world. Don’t put yourself in danger. Making duck calls on a bus (yes, I have seen this) is annoying no matter what time of day it is. Don’t embarrass the rest of us. Chances are I am standing in a crowd behind you rolling my eyes.
Peace and long life.