I’ve been living in Sevilla, Spain, for almost a month now, and I thought I’d share some study abroad tips I’ve discovered–through experience or by word-of-mouth. So here are 21 things to think about when you’re studying abroad in Europe.
Prioritize your travel destinations so you don’t get overwhelmed.
- Of course you want to visit 30 different countries, but you can’t visit every last place you want to. Narrow it down to the top 3-5 destinations you refuse to go home without seeing, and then list those in order of importance.
Make an effort to speak the language!
- If you only speak the language when you’re around natives, you’ll rely on speaking with your English roommates/classmates as a crutch. Do your best to only lapse into English when you really have to–soon you’ll find it difficult to switch between the two, which is a good sign.
Always have your host country’s currency in cash (and coins) on hand.
- You never know when you need small bills to pay for a coffee (or a macaroon*).
Take advantage of siesta and other cool customs in your host country.
- If you refuse to capitalize on some of the most relaxing traditions of your host country, why did you even study abroad? You bet I’m sleeping every day from 3-5 pm–any cultural excuse to nap is just fine by me.
Give yourself time to adjust to the new schedule.
- As lovely as siestas are, they tend to throw off one’s biological clock at first. Ditto later meal times (who ever heard of dinner as late as 9:30 pm). Add the jet lag from the journey, and you’re bound to need several days to recover.
Set your phone to military time a few days before you leave.
- If you’re studying anywhere in Europe, they’re going to use the 24-hour clock instead of our 12-hour one. Which means 17:00 is actually 5 pm. Once you get over the initial strain of having to perform simple arithmetic (my last math class was freshman year, okay?), it’s actually a really easy system. No more confusion on whether you should meet at “10 am or 10 pm?”
Wi-fi is a privilege, so take advantage of it when you can.
- But really. You never know when your host family’s wi-fi (or wee-fee, as they call it in Spain) will fizzle out, and then you’re stuck having to read a book or something. Cafés and places like McDonald’s have free wi-fi, but be wary of spending all your money on delicious cafés con leche while you study.
Read the local news.
- It may seem unimportant, since you’re not really a native, but it’s always advisable to know what’s going on in the country where you live. Can you imagine an exchange student living in America not being aware of the “Black Lives Matter” protests happening in the U.S. right now? (On a side note, apparently Spain’s version of the Oscars–Los Premios Goya, after the painter Francisco de Goya–just ended ast week, and I had no idea. Oops.)
Read books in the language of your host country.
- I picked up a Spanish copy of The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle (or El Último Unicornio) so I can familiarize myself with the written language. I am a writing major, after all.
Always have a phone and a copy of your passport with you.
- This cannot be stressed enough. Make sure you’re never stranded alone in a foreign country without a way of contacting anyone or proving your identity. Just don’t do it.
The metro is one of the easiest ways to get around.
- Much to everybody’s surprise, public transportation in Europe is actually very clean, efficient, and organized. Particularly in Sevilla, which only has one metro line going two different directions, taking the metro is a breeze.
Bring a real camera, not just a smart phone.
- I learned this lesson the hard way when my smart phone died less than a week after I arrived in Spain. Talk about a bummer–it was also my camera! Luckily I ordered a GoPro camera and it arrived yesterday, so I can finally act like a tourist and snap a million photos again.
Keep a paper travel journal, even if you also have a blog.
- For similar reasons, it’s good to record your thoughts and experiences abroad on paper as well as the internet. Some things are so exciting that you won’t want to wait for internet access to record them. Plus, you can always tape ticket stubs and other memorabilia in your travel journal that you couldn’t online.
Document your meals!
- It might sound strange, but you’ll want to know what that delicious fried potato dish was called by the time you leave. (Pictures would be even better.)
Pack light if you want to buy clothes in your host country.
- If you’re like me and you have a serious shopping problem, try to pare down your suitcase before you even step foot on the plane. And don’t forget to give yourself a clothes budget so you don’t go overboard.
If you buy fruit, don’t forget to weigh it first and get a ticket before approaching the checkout counter.
- My roommate found this out the other day. It resulted in a lot of confusion and rapid Spanish that she didn’t understand. Best to avoid that situation altogether.
Don’t leave the gates when you’re switching trains–it invalidates your ticket!
- Again, my friend discovered this piece of arcane knowledge while traveling. She got it figured out, but her trip was undoubtedly stressful after this happened..
Learn to take shorter showers.
- Europeans are serious about conserving natural resources. It’s important to respect your host family by turning off lights when you leave a room and taking showers that are no longer than 5 minutes.
Take photos with friends – and selfies!
- When your time abroad is over, you’re going to want plenty of photos so you can remember all your great experiences. But make sure you get pics of not just the cool cathedrals and paintings you see–you also need ones featuring you and your friends!
Bring an e-reader or buy books in your host country.
- Whether you’re taking the metro or flying to Paris, you’ll want something to do besides stare blankly out the window. Also, keep in mind that there’s a surprising amount of down time at your homestay, especially in the beginning when you don’t have homework.
Try to keep up with the news back home.
- It’s harder than you might think, but staying at least a little informed about the U.S. will keep you from being totally out of the loop when you get back home.
* Here’s a fun story: Last semester, when TCU brought a bunch of study abroad “alumni” to an event to talk to us, one of my friends talked with a girl who seemed to have no idea what a budget was. Apparently, her parents had given her an outrageous amount of money per month for her study abroad trip, and she encouraged everyone going abroad to beg their parents for as much money as possible. “After all, when you’re in Paris, you’re gonna want to buy that macaroon!” she exclaimed. The phrase has become a bit of an inside joke among my study abroad companions.