#1 Find YOUR place.
You need a place. It’s that simple. You need it. You need a place where you can go, alone or with friends, depending on your mood, and you can feel at home. You need a place where you can go and sit when you miss your family. Pick a place that you can get to easily, that will always welcome you back. You need a place to reflect and to just inhale the world around you.
Don’t search for your place, fall into it. You shouldn’t go off looking for a place. Don’t force it. You will stumble across a location, maybe a bar or a restaurant or a coffee shop or a shady place under a tree, and at first it will just be any other place and then suddenly, you realize it is your place. I think finding a place feels different for everyone. You’ll know when it feels right. When you find it, always remember that it will be there waiting for you.
#2 If the locals are eating it, you can too.
You won’t die because you have different taste preferences. The fish won’t kill you and the bread isn’t the same in the states. You’re actually going to eat REAL food in many places you visit. Not processed fake food. REAL food. So try it. If you don’t like it, just don’t eat it again. You’ll regret the time you had the chance to eat reindeer or some weird fish and you passed it up to eat something more familiar. I know lists of tips always include trying the food, but take it from one of the pickiest eaters ever… TRY THE FOOD.
#3 DON’T touch American beers.
Just don’t do it. You didn’t travel thousands of miles to sit down with a Budweiser. Try a local brew. Try something in a weird shaped bottle. Better yet, look and see what’s at the bar and pick something out based on the color of the bottle. You have at least a semester to find out what you like. Just remember, if you try all different kinds of beer, chances are you’re going to fall in love with one you can’t get in the states. Make your time with international beers a special one. Say no to American beers.
#4 Take a language class.
I took Danish this semester in Denmark and let me tell you… Danish is hard. Really hard. But it has been one of the best classes of my college career. So what if I’ll never speak Danish again? Learning a language that is completely different than your first language, or other languages you’ve taken in your life, forces you to think and pay attention. It also forces you to listen on the train or in your favorite coffee shop. And by the time you’re gearing up to leave and go home, you’ll realize that maybe you can’t carry a full-out conversation, but you can understand a lot of what is being said around you.
#5 Take a culture class.
I’m kind of cheating with this one because my language class was a language/culture class, so I had a two in one… BUT the culture section of my class was also phenomenal. Unlike my friends who were studying at the Business school or the University in Copenhagen, I had knowledge about how the government worked. I knew about the Royal family and their history. I knew how to go to a dinner party and what to expect and how to act. I learned about so much more than I ever would have just walking down the streets. Take a culture class. Learn about the culture that you’re living in. It’s the least you can do.
#6 Live with a host family.
I know this isn’t for EVERYONE, so I’ll give you a second and third option. Option 2 visit with a family. Sign up to have a family that you see once or twice a month for dinner or coffee. This way, you have a wonderful resource who can answer all of your questions. “Why do we stand on the right and walk on the left at the station?” “Why does no one here brag about talents?” “What is the deal with Handball?” THEY’LL KNOW THE ANSWERS! Option 3 sign up to live with someone who is from that country and attending your University. It is worth it! And you will learn so much more than your peers living with other Americans. You will. I promise.
Living with a host family though. Do it. If you can. It was the greatest decision I think I made about study abroad.
#7 Take the normal volume of your voice and cut that in half. If you think you’re whispering, you’re still talking too loud.
As many of you know, I am just a loud person. Coming here, I realized my Americanness even more sitting on a bus or train when I could only hear my voice or the voice of the person I was talking to. Speak softly. Save yourself the embarrassment. I was on a train one day (all by myself so I was listening to music quietly) and who should interrupt my music listening but two SHOUTING Americans! They weren’t actually that loud by American standards, but wow. I could hear them through my head phones. I didn’t even need to know they were speaking English to know they were Americans. (They were speaking in English. About boys and sex and what have you.) Another tip about talking loudly, wherever you are, chances are some, most, or all of the people around you speak at least a little English. Just because you can’t understand their language doesn’t mean they can’t understand yours.
WHICH MEANS, Do not try to talk in English about someone right next to you. They probably know what you’re saying. Just stop.
#8 Just because you aren’t technically a tourist doesn’t mean you should skip touristy things.
Buy a “Top 10” book for wherever you’re going and figure out what tourist attractions you’d like to squeeze in while you’re there. Also, don’t be afraid to look like a tourist with your camera and that cheesy smile, you’ll want those photos later.
#9 Plan ahead while taking it as it comes.
Before I went abroad, I had nothing planned. No trips on the weekends, no trips for travel breaks, nothing. I really wish I had planned things. It sucks when you realize you have done nothing but sleep in on the weekends and missed visiting cool places. Then you start running around trying to plan things and squeeze things in and it becomes really overwhelming. Try to have an idea of where you want to go ahead of time. Watch flights on StudentUniverse (or whatever ticket thing you want to use) and see when flights for weekend trips are the cheapest. By your tickets, stay in a hostel, and know what attraction you want to see before you get there so you aren’t sitting in your hostel your first night looking up things to do. That being said, with all that planning, make sure you remember to take experiences as they come. So what if you didn’t hit all the attractions you wanted to? Don’t rush through everything to do more. Enjoy and soak up everything.
#10 Skype is nice, in moderation.
I love my family. I love my friends. I’m sure you do too. But don’t get caught up in video chatting every day. You should be out living and experiencing. You have the rest of your life after you go home to tell them about your experiences!
Try to plan so you only video chat once a week. These once a week chats will be more valuable because you’ll have more to tell everyone!
#11 Buy a little something every place you go.
Just do it. Trust me. You’ll regret it if you don’t.
#12 Fall in love.
I know this one sounds a little stupid. But I am serious. Fall in love. You don’t have to fall in love with a person. You can fall in love with a place. Fall in love with something abroad that makes leaving hard. You don’t have to set out looking for something to fall in love with. Just like in real life, you’ll fall in love when you least expect it, IF and ONLY IF, you are open to falling. If you walk around with your heart closed, you will never find something that makes you want to stay. Keep your eyes and ears open and wait to be swept off by your journey.