Happy Holidays! During the past 4 months I had the wonderful opportunity to study abroad in Paris, France. It was an amazing experience that truthfully felt more like a vacation than a semester of school. I did a decent amount of traveling as well—I went to Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, England, and also to other places in France. Throughout my trip, I learned a lot about the different cultures, about the people, and perhaps most importantly, I learned a lot about myself.
Here are my 5 pieces of advice for anyone who decides to travel abroad:
1) Do Your Own Thaaang!—Do the things that you want to do and do them for yourself. Don’t do it just because your friends want to do it, or because it’s in the guidebook, or because you want to post it on Instagram. And don’t NOT do something just because you’ll be alone. Sometimes, the best adventures you will have abroad are the ones by yourself. One instance on my trip was when I had a solo lunch eating frog legs because none of my friends wanted to join me. It was still a great meal, and I’m glad that I did it for myself instead of waiting for them.
2) Sincerity and A Smile is Universal—To be honest, there are many people around the world who believe that Americans are all ignorant and self-centered. The best way to counteract this negative stereotype is to just be sincere and smile. Wherever you go, whether it’s a fancy restaurant or your local boulangerie (translation: “local deli”), always smile and greet the employees. Before going on your trip, try to memorize a few key phrases of their language (“Hello, how are you?”, “Thank You”, “I apologize, but I don’t speak ____. Do you speak English?”, etc.). I found that even attempting to speak their language is better than trying to force an English conversation. And smiling is universal of course! I was actually able to get a major discount on some gifts from Venice simply because I engaged the storeowner in a small conversation.
3) Always Be Alert—Despite all the fun adventures you will have abroad, it’s always important to be in control and aware of your surroundings. Unfortunately, many foreigners know that there are many innocent American students who are looking for a good experience, but who have no idea of how life is in their country. So be wary of everything from charging you extra for a cab fare to tying a bracelet on your wrist and charging you for it as a “souvenir”.
4) Trying New Things is a Must—Why order the hamburger? If you’re in a foreign country, you might as well try their specialties! I had the opportunity to try escargot, while all my friends had a steak. The same goes for attending an opera or traveling by camel instead of by train. Studying abroad really taught me to expand my boundaries. You’re in a different country anyway, so I advise you to step out of your comfort zone and to try new things (within reason of course!).
5) Try To Blend In—“When in Rome, do as the Romans do” is a famous idiom that can apply to any country. After you’ve finally got a sense of how life is in that country, I advise you to try your best to blend in with the locals. Make the appropriate hand motions, dress like the locals, take the bus instead of a cab, and so on. For my trip in Paris, I had to get used to wearing scarves and dark clothing. Trust me, it will work out for you. Plus, it’s fun to try to assimilate with different culture for this small period of your life.
Have you traveled abroad and do you have any more tips? Thanks for reading and please comment below!