So You’re Studying Abroad in Europe…
Some Tips to Make the Most of Your Experience
1. Travel outside of the city you’re staying in.
Whether if it’s going to a completely different country, or a city in the same country, make the most of your time in Europe. It’s very easy to get around in Europe by train or plane. Bianca and I bought a global train pass (expensive, but definitely worth it) to get around to four other countries and four other French cities. You’re young and this is your chance to travel. Worry about the money later because Europe has many surprises you’ll never know about if you don’t go.
2. Expect to pay a lot of money EVERYWHERE.
This even includes your sandwich for lunch. I even paid around 10 us dollars for a Pepsi you couldn’t even get a refill on once at a restaurant. If you want to save money, cook food at home and don’t buy every single souvenir you come across. Instead, buy practical things you will actually use, like a sweatshirt or a shot glass. You don’t need a snowglobe from every city you visit or 50 eiffel tower key chains.
3. But remember to use your student ID card from your foreign university.
If your university offers you an ID card, there are a lot of discounts for students everywhere. Most of these things are touristy things, such as museums or churches, but this also includes cheaper movies. I even got into Musee D’Orsay, Les Invalides, L’Orangerie, and Centre Pompidou for free because of my student ID card in Paris.
4. Everyone, and I mean everyone, will know you’re American.
Okay, so we did trick like three people into thinking we were from Switzerland and Canada, but for the most part people immediately know you’re American. They may or may not be rude to you, but most of the time they are nice about it. What bugged me most is that every time I spoke French, they spoke back in English. So, if you’re worried about speaking the language, most Europeans know English. Also, please don’t dress/act too obviously American, some Europeans will be annoyed.
5. Pack Lightly.
Bring enough clothes to last you a while, but you don’t have to go overboard. Gross, but I rewore many things without washing them. It’s just how it works. Many Parisians do not own dryers, so also be aware of that. Taking three days to dry your pants does suck. Carrying my suitcases were heavy enough (it’s two days later and my arms STILL hurt from dragging them in the metro). It’s okay to be an outfit repeater, Lizzie McGuire.
6. Master that public transportation.
For the first few days, don’t be afraid to ask how to get somewhere. However, the metro (at least in Paris) is SUPER easy to figure out only after a few days. Don’t be ashamed of carrying around a map either, it’s better to look super touristy than get lost. If you’re studying in Paris, make sure you buy a NaviGo pass to take you around all public transportation. It’s expensive, but worth it for the amount of times you will need to use the metro/tram/RER/bus.
7. Go to fun places, but also take time to learn the history of your country.
Bianca and I decided to take a whole day trip to the Normandy D Day beaches, which was something I’ve never done before. We learned so much about WW2, and had a blast while doing it. You’re not only here to do fun things like climb the Eiffel Tower, but learn about your country’s past, present, and future. Take your time to invest in your country’s rich history. Go beyond the norm (andy).
8. When doing touristy things, don’t rush them.
Take your time to admire the beauty of the church you’re sitting in. Buy an audio guide and learn the history. People watch a little. Bianca would play inspiring music as we would sit and observe places like the top of the Eiffel Tower. You need to make those moments count.
9. Don’t forget to take down time.
It’s okay to spend your Sunday sleeping all day after a busy week of school and sight seeing. Bianca and I were definitely guilty of this. You may feel guilty not doing anything, but it’s okay. You don’t want to get burnt out.
10. Also don’t forget to ACTUALLY do your homework.
The number one reason you came there is to learn, right? Okay, so that’s what you told your parents. But, you are spending a lot of money on tuition, so it’s important to keep up with school work.
11. Make friends from across the world
In my program, I met people from Taiwan to Canada to Sweden to Texas. Each and every person can teach you about THEIR culture. So not only are you learning about the country you’re studying in’s culture, you can learn about other cultures around the world. Our friend Dan told us more than I ever knew about Korea’s history. And we learned he’s a descendant of the Ming Dynasty.
12. Grab local magazines and newspapers and READ them.
You’ll not only learn about local culture and events, but you can easily practice understanding the local language in a practical way. Plus, I thought I looked more Parisian on the metro while doing this…
12. Get used to not being on social media 24/7
Forget about your friends and their lives at home for a little while, as selfish as that seems. Catch up at night when you have WIFI, but don’t obsess over the fact you can’t tweet about the fact you thought you saw Joe Jonas in a boutique. You’re here to enjoy the experience, so don’t go and try to find that free WiFi at McDonalds every five blocks.
13. By the way, go to American restaurants like McDonald’s to see how they are different.
I HATE McDonalds in the US, but in Paris they had potato wedges and in London they have waffle fries. America, you’re really slacking here. Plus, it’s 10 times cheaper than other places.
14. But don’t forget to splurge and go to local restaurants.
You should make time to figure out the best restaurants and bars in the area.
15. It may be worth it to get a guide book.
We bought Rick Steve’s guide to Europe to help us get around. It gave us a base of what we should actually do, and if it was worth going there. Of course, you should TRY to do things not typically mentioned in touristic books such as drinking wine by the Eiffel Tower at night to going to a local movie theatre. Sometimes, the weird ideas are the most fun ideas.
16. When traveling, don’t be afraid of staying in hostels.
They actually aren’t as scary as they seem, and many even have their own private rooms so they seem like hotels. The easiest way to book them is on either hostels.com or hostelworld.com, where people can rate them and you can pick the price you want to spend. They are actually pretty cool, because you can meet other people. Our hostel in London was awesome, it was a Youth Hostel and they gave us discounts on tourist attractions in London. Our hostel in Brussels was actually more of a hotel…for the price of a hostel. Plus, it had a bar in it, was brand new, and they helped us decide where to go out during the night and day. I mean we did kind of luck out with our last hostel in Geneva when we had to room with old grumpy ladies…
17. Be those tourists and go on the hop on hop off buses in bigger cities.
Not only do you get transportation to the most touristic places, but you get commentary about the city you otherwise would have not learned. For example, in London I learned what building was used in Harry Potter as the Ministry of Magic.
18. It’s okay to take 1000’s of pictures
And post them all on FaceBook…hey your grandma wants to see them right? Just don’t get too caught up with capturing the perfect picture. Enjoy the memoment, yet again.
19. If you’re a girl, you will get cat called at least once.
On our way to a bar in Brussels, we were cat called 35 times. A lot of creepy guys try to hit on American girls, so just be careful and safe. Don’t walk alone and all the stuff like here in America, but be extra safe.
20. Write a blog. Or at least keep a journal.
You want to remember this stuff! And, all your relatives do want to read what’s been going on in your life. Plus, you won’t have to repeat it 100x’s to everyone. Make sure you actually do it though… I’m still a little behind. Write down the weird details and stories. I know I’m still pissed I didn’t write about Italy in my last trip to Europe.
Posted on July 10, 2013, in Study abroad and tagged belgium, brussels, college, england, europe, france, Monaco, paris, Study, Study abroad, study abroad tips, switzerland, travel, travel tips, UW Madison. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.