Advice For Your First Week Abroad
Europe is treating me well, and I am happy to report that I finally am beginning to feel as though I have found my footing on the other side of the pond. However, this steadiness did not come without a few hiccups along the way.
Traveling to any foreign country comes with its own series of learning curves, regardless of how prepared you may think you are. Drawing from my own recent experience, I've compiled a few little tidbits of advice for navigating your first week abroad!
1. Learn to go with the flow (quickly, I might add)
If you're a Type A planner like I am, you may to may not have pencilled in an entire itinerary for your trip months before your passport was stamped. Although it's nice to idealize your first meal abroad or piece together an optimally efficient schedule that will allow you to see all of the sights, allowing yourself to just go with the flow will make your experience much more enjoyable. You will get lost. Buses will run late. There will be days where staying in sounds more appealing than sightseeing. Don't run away from this; embrace it and let your experience be more like a vacation and less like a boot camp.
2. Be prepared with appropriate power adapters and converters.
If you're studying abroad, odds are that your U.S. plugs are not compatible with the voltage of international outlets. While this may seen like a given, prepare and then double check to avoid a headache when arriving in your temporary home country. There's nothing worse than a dead phone when you're trying to navigate a new country and have no way of charging up. Also, ordering adapters and converters on Amazon will likely save you some $$$
3. Let's talk shopping.
A few things here. First, you'll want to make sure you do some research on your credit/debit cards are available for international use (surprisingly enough, several of my friends had to order new credit/debit cards that were specifically travel-friendly). Secondly, make sure your card provider is aware of where you will be traveling and the dates that you'll be there. Some card providers allow you to simply do this online, and some require that you call them and speak to an employee before confirming your travel financial plans.
Next, become familiar with the currency conversion and don't let it trick you! For example, the U.K. uses GBP, or Great British Pounds. The current conversion rate is 1GBP = $1.30USD. This means that a series of little 3 pound coffee purchases adds up quickly, more so than you may be used to due to the deceptively low price in comparison to USD. Luckily, there are lots of apps you can use to convert prices quickly and easily.
Lastly, many foreign countries practice different customs of tax and tipping. The U.K., for example, does not add additional tax on top of a product's listed price. Also, the food service industry operates under a different rate of pay for employees; therefore, it is not necessary to tip after a meal. Nice, right? However, be prepared to drop a few extra coins on items such as plastic grocery bags (England is BIG into recycling and I love it) and laundry machines at your home university. If you can manage, budgeting really is a great way to track your expenses in the midst of navigating the money-sucking black hole that is a bustling urban powerhouse like London. (Pro tip: cooking at the university and packing meals ahead of time is a lifesaver!)
4. Don't be afraid to be alone!
I preface this by saying always be safe. However, I encourage you to take advantage of opportunities to travel solo and explore your new city by yourself. While it's daunting to take on the Underground alone, you will experience a sense of relief knowing that you don't need to rely on anybody else to explore and enjoy your time abroad. Additionally, solo travel leaves ample opportunity for reflection and immersion into a new culture. As young adults, we exist in a rare season of life where we don't have the responsibility of being bound to another human and can afford to be a little selfish about the time we spend with ourselves.
5. Be kind to yourself.
This piece of advice is certainly easier said that done. As exciting as studying abroad is, it is also an experience of culture shock that can leave you feeling overwhelmed. It is normal to take the wrong train every now and then; just hop on the next one and keep going. It is okay to miss your family and to experience homesickness in waves; give yourself that night snuggled up in your dorm to FaceTime your loved ones if you need it. It is even acceptable to grow and change the trajectory of your time abroad as you see fit once you find your footing.
It is not, however, okay to be unkind to yourself in the midst of a potentially life-changing journey halfway across the world. Take a breath, remind yourself why you set foot outside of the U.S. in the first place, and just keep going. It'll be great.
I hope this advice was helpful to anyone planning to study abroad or in the process of studying abroad. While this adventure has been eye-opening, inspiring, and often breathtaking, it has also presented its own unique challenges and opportunities for growth. But it's all part of the process, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't loving it.
Take care & ta ta!