Lessons in Study Abroad

I can’t believe it, but we’re at the mid-way point in our study abroad experience.  Here are a few things I’ve learned the past few months.

Know where you’re going. 

Why travel if you don’t know what you’re seeing?  One of the biggest mistakes I’ve made so far was being incredibly hungover and poorly dressed for the rainy weather during our 3-hour walking tour of Rome.  I had no idea what we were seeing or when we were seeing it.  And it had been a while since I had brushed up on my Roman history… So we’re walking by sights like where Julius Caesar was killed and the Pantheon, and I’m just thinking What. Is. This.  I know, I’m ashamed to admit it, especially here.

The last time I took European history, or even world history, was sometime early in high school.  It is SO important, whenever you’re traveling to read up on whatever you’re seeing before you go.  Even if you have a tour guide, it’s good to have that knowledge in your brain before you go so you can actually deeply appreciate what you’re seeing.  It also helps to build anticipation for your travels!

Push yourself outside of your comfort zone.

One can easily spend all of study abroad surrounded by American people, safe food, and a boring life.  Especially in Europe, it’s so easy to slip into a life that isn’t too challenging.  I have to aware of going to new places, trying new things by myself, practicing the language with.

Yes, study abroad can be about taking shots in as many bars as you can find and kissing boys from every country in the European Union.  However, study abroad has to be more than the superficial stuff.  To come back a changed person, you have to push yourself to practice the language, try new food, take different routes and paths across the city.  Never get stuck in a rut.  I want to say don’t become a regular anywhere.  There’s a new bar waiting to be discovered, new people waiting to be met, silly things to be seen and overheard in a place that you don’t even know exists yet. Just go. Keep opening up new doors (literally) and if you don’t like what’s inside, okay that’s 5 minutes of your life.

When you’re open to new experiences, that’s when you stumble upon a hipster park, the best pasta in Italy, an inspiring street performer, or even an impromptu magic show put on by a little boy on the streets of Jaipur.  Open your eyes and open your heart.  That’s when you grow and that’s when you get those twinkly memories that stay with you forever.

Tinder is a way to practice your language skills.

Okay.  My sister already made fun of me for this.  But it is true!  I’m living with a host family- a retired couple.  So of course, the topics that I’ll be talking about with them and the language I’d use is very different than what’s appropriate with my peers.  Tinder is a great way to have pressure-free interesting conversations with people boys my age.  Along with all of the other “benefits” of using Tinder, you can learn texting lingo!  Slang that all the cool kids use!  Idioms and colloquial language!  Okay, I’m done now.

Be less materialistic.

This one’s been easy for me.  I haven’t bought a single souvenir while abroad, because every time I see a kitschy souvenir that shows up in every third store, or even a hot skirt on sale, I realize that that same money can be spent on food, alcohol, and/or making memories.  A flamenco dancing figurine with Madrid! plastered across the chest is just simply not worth 20 EU.

JUST TALK TO PEOPLE.

This is so incredibly hard for me.  Small talk actually gives me hives.  But saying hi and asking how people are doing actually can be more interesting rather than vomit-inducing.  That’s how I met two freshmen from OSU in Dublin and learned about the best places to visit in Portugal from a Portuguese women during Intercambio.  This is another comfort zone thing, but still important and still something I struggle with.  I vow from here on out I’m going to try to talk to one new person every day.  Or at least every other day.

Learn how to be independent.  Learn about you.

The one person I am with forever is Me. My relationship with myself is Eternal, so I choose to be my best friend. I choose to love and accept myself and talk to myself as I would a beloved person in my life. I saturate all the cells in my body with Love, as they become vibrantly healthy. I relate with love to all of life.” – Louise Hay

One thing about college that is tremendously challenging is that we live our lives in chapters- a semester, a summer internship, another semester, a winter break and vacation, etc.  You continuously meet new people in each chapter as you move through organizations, change majors, move off campus.  The important people remain constant and everyone else do-si-dos in and out of your life.  Friends come and go, relationships/hooks up came and go even faster.  And that’s okay.  We’ve gotten used to that.

But being abroad is a whole different story.

I haven’t had any friends or family come to visit me, and I have no one to visit here on this continent.  I am completely detached from what I know as home- my country, my language, my school, my friends, my family. And let me tell you, pizza here is not the same is at is at home- their “crust,” if you can call it that, and non-existence of traditional marinara sauce is killing me softly.

I haven’t felt homesick.  It is very easy in Europe to forget about home.  The food is great and there is so much to see and do. One can sleep through class and easily pass. I’m crossing off bucket list items like a boss.  Study abroad really is as fun as people make it to seem to be on social media.

But what you don’t see on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and blogs are  those quiet moments on the metro alone. Or getting coffee in between class.  Or sitting in bed on a Tuesday night, realizing you have only have a few friends that you can count on one hand that are even on the same continent as you. Woah.  And even within your program, sometimes you may not feel like you know everyone super well.  We all travel together and we play together, but we don’t all really know each other.  Somehow the world can be a very big place and a very small place at the same time.

It’s also hard to know who you are when you don’t have the usual constructs and pressures of school, teachers, exams, parents, friends, organizations, and peers telling you who you are and shaping who you are.

I’m trying to learn how to love just being alone.  I’m introverted to begin with, but sometimes I want my friends to crack inside jokes with or to watch a movie or to just gossip over chips/salsa/margs.  (People make fun of me for calling them margs. But it’s totally a thing, so whatever).  Sometimes, I just want my mom to be here to yell at me to clean my room and stop being lazy and then make me dinner.  Sometimes, I wish I could go to a bar or club here and be able to recognize a large chunk of people and say hi to friends that I see once in a while in the OxBox but not often enough.  I wish I had the comfort of being around people who I already know and who already know me and my quirks and still love and tolerate me anyways.

I’m still growing and trying to figure out how it can be okay to be alone sometimes, especially when it isn’t by choice.  I’m figuring out who I am when I’m in a completely different environment without school or anything else defining me.  I don’t have a definite answer to either of these yet.   I’m hoping by the end of the semester I do.

xoxo

Ro

 

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