Adjusting to Life Abroad
Kate, SAI Ambassador, 2019
August 23, 2019

What was your favorite thing to do in your host city?

The moment you first arrive in the city that will be your home for the next four months is very exciting, but it can also be intimidating. You are thousands of miles from home, you don’t know the language, and you haven’t gotten the first clue about how to get around the city. I remember thinking to myself, how am I going to navigate this place? What if I get lost? It turned out that getting lost was one of my favorite things to do. I quickly figured out my regular route to get to class, but on the way home, I made a point to go some new and unfamiliar way. My phone would be put away in my bag so I wasn’t distracted or tempted to use google maps. This gave me the chance to not only challenge my navigation skills, but to explore every part of my host city. I became more and more familiar with the city and was able to adjust to living there much faster. So, my advice to anyone leaving for a semester abroad, when you arrive, take some time to get lost and explore your new home; without your phone.

Looking over Interlaken, Switzerland at the Harderkulm

What travel tips would you give someone studying abroad?

Traveling can be a bit daunting. So I have put together 6 tips that will help to make it a bit easier for you.

  1. Make a checklist of everything you need and check through it at least twice! Forgetting something important, such as your passport, can really put a damper on the a trip. So the night before you leave make sure you have everything you need.
  2. Pack lightly! The planes are small and have strict limits on bag weight and size. It’s also easier to get around with less luggage to carry. You never need as much as you think you do.
  3. Check the weather! To help you figure out what to pack, check the weather of the place you are visiting.
  4. Bring a portable charger! Your phone can be used for just about everything these days, such as downloading your plane/train tickets, so it’s important that your phone is always charged. So if you have a portable charger, bring it with you, if you don’t have one, I recommend getting one.
  5. Arrive to airport/trains early! Make sure you give yourself enough time to get to the airport or train station with time to spare.
  6. Don’t let the stress take over! Traveling can be very stressful, especially when traveling in a group. Thing don’t always go as planned but don’t panic. Do your best to remain calm because no matter how bad things may seem in the moment, they are never as bad as we make them out to be.

Riomaggiore, one of the villages in Cinque Terre, Italy

What advice do you have for new study abroad students?

There’s lots of advice that I could offer to new study abroad students. One important piece of advice I could offer is to make an effort to blend in with the culture. A major concern for many students is safety from pickpocketing. From my personal experience, the best way to avoid being a target of this is to be aware of your surroundings, and to try not to stand out. American students can be very easy to spot. We have a very distinctive accent and dress and act differently. We can’t change our accent, but we can change the way we dress and behave. Now I’m not suggesting that you go out and buy a new wardrobe to fit the “European lifestyle”, but make an attempt to dress similarly to them.

Florence Cathedral: Never got tired of seeing this everyday

For example, athleisure wear is not as popular in Europe as it is in the states, so try swapping your leggings out for a pair of jeans. In terms of behavior, don’t draw attention to yourself in a negative way. The city we study in becomes our home for the next four months, but to the people of that city, we are only a temporary guest. So treat the people and your host city with respect, and you will be given the same in return.

Les Deux Plateaux, commonly known as Colonnes de Buren in Paris, France

Do you have any tips for learning the language while students are abroad?

Learning a new language is a very difficult thing to do, but not impossible. The best tips I can offer to help learn the language is to…

  1. Listen to it being spoken around you and try to understand what is being said
  2. Read anything you can that is in the language, from street signs to menus, do your best to understand the words and how to pronounce them
  3. Speak it! Whenever you have the chance, avoid using English and try using the foreign language to communicate with people, this will only help you to learn faster

If you put in the effort, you will be surprised by how much you will be able to learn in just a short time.

Colosseum in Rome, Italy

Kate was a fall 2018 Florence student from Muhlenberg College.

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About SAI

SAI is dedicated to providing academic and cultural learning experiences abroad that enhance global awareness, professional development and social responsibility. We concentrate our programs in Europe, with a focus on in-depth learning of individual European countries and their unique global role in the geopolitical economy, humanities, and in the arts.