Going Beyond the Packing List: Preparing for Abroad

By Kayla Weier

So you’ve been accepted to your program, you’ve been to your orientations, you’ve finally gotten your passport back with a probably sub-par photo of you staring back at you from your visa. All that you can do is sit and wait for the impending chaos of study abroad now, right?

Not even close. There are all kinds of things that can give you an extra edge before you even touch down in your host country. Here’s a helpful list of those things those orientations won’t cover from those of us who learned these lessons the hard way.

Duolingo

If you’re going to a non-English speaking country and have no background in the language of your host country, seriously, do your Duolingo. For those of you who haven’t been introduced to this wonder app, you can download it for free on iOS, Android, and Windows phones. It’ll walk you through the basics of most major world languages through pictures, matching, and writing. 

image3.gifMost people swear by this one, but there are also other great apps like Busuu, Babbel, and Fluent Panda. Doesn’t matter if you only get through the first three lessons on the plane to your program- it’s going to help. Being familiar with high frequency words will be incredibly helpful, especially in the first few days. And while you’re at it, commit the phrase “Where is the bathroom” in the country’s language to memory, because literally anything else will be more dignified to try and act out in those first frustrating days.

Check weather averages in your host city

I know this seems obvious, but this was my (and several other Buffs) biggest mistake before going abroad. When you’re wading through subzero conditions in a Colorado blizzard, 32 degrees and drizzle sounds downright tropical. By the same token, an 85 degree dry heat is extremely different from 85 degrees at 100% humidity.

image4.gifIf you think you have a good idea of what the weather will be like without researching, check again. I went to Italy in the winter expecting a mild, Mediterranean winter, and ended up living in a parka for two months, not to mention dropping a good chunk of money on extra winter clothes I didn’t think to bring. To add insult to injury, in many countries heating is limited by law as to how much you can use each day (7 hours in Italy). Older buildings, however beautiful and unique they may be, tend to be drafty and poorly insulated. Likewise, be prepared for no air conditioning in locations with hot summers. If you do this, you’ll be geared up at best, and pleasantly surprised at worst.

Download CityMapper.

Possibly the saddest moment of my life was coming home from study abroad, and then discovering the wonders of CityMapper. It’s like Google Maps, but with easy, straightforward transit directions you don’t have to break out the Deerstalker cap and pipe to decipher. It’s your best friend if you’ll be traveling to or living in any major city abroad.image7.gif In addition to US cities, Citymapper currently has London, Amsterdam, Stockholm, Paris, Brussels, Mexico City, Moscow, Rome, Sao Paolo, Sydney, Seoul, and Singapore, to name a few. You may or may not have data while abroad, so look up directions while you have wifi and screenshot them. It works just as well. Seriously, this thing runs on pure magic.

Bring clothes you can say goodbye to.

You’ll probably be traveling and going places much, much more than you’re used to in Boulder, and this can take its toll on clothes- especially shoes. If you’re living somewhere that dryers aren’t an option, line drying can also leave you with starchy, itchy clothes after a while. You’ll probably have at least one pair of shoes fall apart completely. And, inevitably, you’ll lose something. 

I’ve heard many a lament of Zeppelin shirts abandoned in Munich, Scotland sweatshirts forgotten under hostel pillows, beloved gloves left behind in restaurants. But there’s a bright side: more space to bring things home! 

At the end of your program, some providers will give you the opportunity to donate clothes you don’t want to bring back and aren’t entirely trashed. If they don’t, you can research donation centers locally.

image6.gifThings won’t fit the same going back anyways (they never do), and this way you buy yourself a little grace and souvenir space at the end of semester. Travel sometimes lends itself to having to make some tough decisions, and choosing to bring clothes you can let go will save you a lot of pain.

Pack towels and a blanket.

While we’re on the topic of packing and clothes- bring towels you don’t care about and a spare blanket. A lot of programs require you to bring your own towels, and having an extra blanket is always a good idea. Some hostels don’t provide towels, or charge to borrow one.

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A lightweight blanket is good for those early morning bus rides, late night flights, or an extra layer for your bed. Lay out your blanket and towel at the bottom of your suitcase before you add anything else. Ditch them in your host country at the end of your program. Same deal with the old clothes- donate when you can, and you’ll magically have some extra suitcase space coming home.

Buy an adapter before you leave.

A lot of us have been there, knowing that the outlets will be different, knowing that we’re going to have to get an adapter, but deciding to buy it once we arrive. If this happens to you, it won’t be the end of the world, but bringing an adapter along will make the beginning of your program a lot less stressful. 

This is a preference thing, but I also recommend getting a second, cheap adapter if your laptop or phone are known for spotty battery quality. See if you can find a place in-country that won’t jack up the price for tourists. It’s not a necessity, for sure, but it will make home life when you’re doing homework at night a little easier.

Learn how to do laundry in a sink.

Yeah, yeah, sounds gross, but it’s really not so bad. My life improved significantly when I realized I could cut down on the day-or-two long Italian laundering process (between a washing machine that took four hours and line drying in a cold apartment) if I found myself facing an impromptu weekend trip and no clean socks. Even better, if you’re going on a long trip for a week or two, knowing you can flash clean some little things in a hostel sink helps tremendously. It’s pretty easy- warm water, add clothes, add laundry detergent, scrub, rinse in cold water, let dry.

image1.gifI learned that adding a little hair conditioner can keep things from getting too starchy with this method. Google’s your friend here – there’s a rainbow of hand washing tips and tricks at your fingertips. Bring a plastic baggie with a couple of those laundry detergent pods with you abroad, and keep them for such emergencies while traveling.

 

Research the trash situation.

This mostly applies to you if you’ll be living in an apartment, but it’s good knowledge if you’re in a homestay or residence hall too. In many countries, garbage protocol varies extensively from the United States. When I lived in Italy, we had to sort our trash into different colored bags by paper, plastics and glass, compost, and general trash. Each type had a different day we had to take it out, at a certain time, in the correct colored bag, at the exact designated spot. Wrong day, time, color, or place? You could get slapped with a fine. It was a serious adjustment when I first showed up, and I found myself thinking about trash approximately a thousand times more than I ever did in the United States. Even worse, the city switched the colors for paper and plastics in the middle of our program. Germany recycles their glass by color, and has something called the “Green Dot System.” In Beijing, inhabitants of a hutong dump trash on a designated street corner, which is cleaned several times a day. Prepare yourself and Google your host country’s garbage guidelines once you know your specific housing situation.

Acknowledge that you’re American.

This is the biggest thing I hear from returned students. Social norms when it comes to interacting with one another are going to be completely different from what you are used to. Many European countries value a certain level of uniform presentation (men and women) before you leave the house. Wear bright colors, leggings, converse, and backpacks? You’re going to get stared at. Stores are going to open and close at different times. In many places, people will be just as curious about your life in America as you are about theirs. People are going to want to talk about American politics- and to an American, that can be a shock to the system. Stateside, politics are a sensitive discussion, but it may not be at all in your host country. During a language exchange event, one of the local students immediately asked my thoughts on gun control, on Obama, on Trump, on every hot button topic under the sun. On the other end of the spectrum, some subjects may be completely off-limits, or social concepts completely alien to members of your host country. Your host culture will likely have a very different system of values from what you are used to. This isn’t to say you need to necessarily assimilate entirely, but it is important to remember to be adaptable, open minded, and respectful when it comes to these cultural differences.

These are a few good ways to start preparing beyond a packing list and really start thinking about your life abroad. While you’re gone, you’ll probably formulate your own long list of things that you wish you had known, but that’s all a part of the experience. You’ll become more resourceful and adaptable, and find your own creative solutions to the challenges your host country may throw you. And this time next year, who knows, you may be passing along your own sage study abroad advice through anecdotes of your own failures and some silly gifs. We look forward to reading.

Speaking in Tongues: Overcoming the Language Barrier

By Annie Birkeland

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Photo by Charlotte Kiaie

One of the most daunting things about going to a foreign country can be trying to communicate with people who don’t speak your language.  Even if you choose to study in an English-speaking country chances are good that you will travel somewhere that people speak another language.

Here are some tips to help you out!

Yes, many people speak English- but not everyone

English is increasingly becoming a global lingua franca. Especially in big cities, international airports, and tourist hot spots, it’s widely used to communicate with basically everyone outside of the local population. It can be comforting to know that most places you can find people proficient in English who have a basic understanding and are able to communicate. So keep in mind that people may understand your English, even when you may be talking among friends and think no one knows what you’re saying (this is directed at you, Americans on the Paris metro, who didn’t realize that other passengers could understand what they were saying).

However, on the flip side, it’s not wise to assume that everyone speaks English, and you shouldn’t expect them to either. As a visitor, it’s up to you to be respectful and to make the effort to communicate with the people in your host country and not expect others to accommodate to you. People often sincerely appreciate when you make an effort to learn their language, even if you make mistakes and it’s not perfect.

Do your research beforehand

There are so many resources to learn languages these days — YouTube videos, tutorials, movies, TV, music, podcasts, books, websites — a myriad of ways to get exposure. Pick one, or a few

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Photo by Niki Fochtman

mediums, and get a head start before you go. I particularly enjoy foreign music, a good podcast, and a small personal dictionary as resources.

Survival phrases and knowing how to ask polite questions is essential (although ideas of politeness can be culturally different). In France, for example, you always start with bonjour; it’s polite to greet someone before asking something of a stranger. ‘Please’, ‘thank you’, ‘excuse me’, ‘sorry,’ ‘no thanks,’ are always a good idea to know no matter where you go.  If you know that you will be doing certain activities like buying tickets, ordering food/drinks, or needing to go to the bathroom or getting lost and needing to ask for directions, it’s good to look those phrases up too. Another great one is always, do you speak english?

This might all seem painfully obvious, but I had experiences abroad where I sincerely wish I would have taken my advice. When I was traveling by myself I took an overnight bus from Greece to get to Istanbul, Turkey. It was an 8 hour trip and there was no bathroom on the bus, and no one that spoke English. Trying to ask for a bathroom break with zero Greek or Turkish knowledge was very difficult and awkward and not something that I would recommend.

Use your resources (technology!)

Google translate can be your friend. It’s a good tool for rapid, rough translations. It tends to be very literal which can be problematic for words that have multiple meanings or for idiomatic expressions (think: google translate let it go song or sirenas translation). I mostly use it to translate other languages into English to get the general gist of something.

When I want accuracy and actual reliable help, I use WordReference. It gives you full sentence examples in both English and the target language (including many romance languages and other major world languages). They give synonyms and different usages, idiomatic expressions, and lots of examples. There is also a tab for verb conjugations as well. As a language major, WordReference has been my lifeline. It is also super helpful because it includes slang and vocab that people actually use when they talk.

Old fashioned techniques can be helpful too

Write things down. I would not have been able to hitchhike around Iceland without writing down the names of my destinations and showing it to the drivers. Take pictures of important words, addresses, metro stops, streets, and hostels that you may not otherwise remember. Especially if the country uses a different alphabet. This is also a good strategy if you are ever in France, because many French words are absolutely not pronounced as you would assume from their written form.

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Photo by Karlye Morren

Speaking the local language will make things easier

Life will simplify exponentially once you become proficient in the basics. Once I was able to understand what other people were saying and I was able to communicate my needs. I felt like I could finally enjoy being abroad. Small interactions like ordering food or buying things at the supermarket no longer felt like daunting, monumental tasks. My level of stress and anxiety calmed down once I became competent and confident in the language.

It’s also way more interesting to actually understand what people are saying around you and more fun to finally be able to get jokes. It is a humbling but rewarding experience to try and learn another language, and once you do you open yourself up to a whole new world of connections and experiences.

 

 

 

Europe on a Dime

By Hannah Ohman

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Photo by Hannah Ohman

Ready to see the world? You should be! You’re about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, and if you are planning on traveling outside of your host city, the logistics can be overwhelming. I studied abroad in Granada, Spain and traveled a lot during and after my program. I learned so much, but there are definitely some things I would do differently if I had the chance. To help you streamline your experience and spend the most time doing the things that matter, I’ve compiled a list of tips and tricks on the best ways to travel through Europe.

 

Fly Icelandair

First of all, book your flight through Icelandair. Seriously, just do it. It’s cheap, they offer great service, and they have tons of movies and shows to watch on the plane. I originally bought a round trip ticket to Spain planning on changing it once I solidified my plans. It was cheaper to buy a round trip ticket and change it than to buy two one way tickets- who knew!

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Photo by Hannah Ohman

While abroad I had been doing some research online about traveling and came across a woman who documented her solo travels around the world (and I recommend you take a look at her blog for more information on traveling http://theblondeabroad.com/category/solo-travel/). She had gone to Iceland, saying it was one of the safest places for women to travel alone, and recommended traveling to Europe by booking a layover through Icelandair. Once I solidified the travel dates after my program ended I changed my ticket home to go through Iceland. Icelandair lets you stay in Iceland for up to 7 nights for no extra airfare, and boy, do I recommend it. While Iceland itself isn’t cheap (think $12 for a hot dog), it was an experience I’ll never forget. So, if you want to cross this off your bucket list and enhance your study abroad experience for no extra airfare I recommend booking through Icelandair!

 

Planes

Speaking of flights, there are tons of low-cost airlines in Europe, like Ryanair and EasyJet, and they can be one of the cheapest ways to travel in Europe. With Ryanair, you can find many flights between large cities for under 50 euro! They sometimes sell fun things like lottery tickets and stuffed animals on these flights because why not? You can imagine a flight on Ryanair to be like any other flight on a low-cost airline; don’t expect top of the line service and comfort. But, if you need to fly somewhere on a budget, it might be worth it. Keep in mind that it might not always be convenient. Pro tip: when looking for the cheapest way to travel you need to consider all possible costs, not just the cost of the flight.

My first big trip was to Paris, France. I found a flight from Madrid to Paris for 20 euro!

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Photo by Hannah Ohman

Cheap right? BUT I didn’t consider the extra costs associated with traveling to Madrid. There many more costs associated with traveling to Madrid that I didn’t take into account, as well as the amount of time I would be spending on a bus (5 hours) and the money I would be spending on extra food during that time. Overall I paid around 105 euros to get to Paris while also spending about 10 hours on a bus, about 2 more hours on the metro with all of my luggage plus the time on the plane and in the airport. I could have flown out of Malaga, an airport about an hour and a half from Granada, and cut down of cost of food by spending less time traveling. If I had flown out of Malaga I might have spent around 90 euro. Although that is not a huge difference in price, I could have saved at least 7 hours, and when you’re doing a lot of traveling that time matters. You know, so you can do cool things like sleep.

So, the lesson? If you are studying in a large city like Madrid, a low-cost airline can definitely be for you. However, if you are studying in a city these flights don’t service directly, the picture gets more complicated. Make sure to weigh all the costs and consider the time commitment when booking flights.

 

Buses

Taking buses between locations is a cheap and easy way to travel in Europe. Thankfully the bus system in Europe is incredibly developed and easy to navigate. There are multiple bus companies that provide fancy coach buses with a large selection of movies and reclining leather seats to many locations throughout Europe. The buses make pit stops along the way, usually at a cafeteria where you can stretch your legs and get a Café con leche or Jamón-flavored Pringles (yes, they exist; and yes, they are gross). Buses are great for low stress travel and are even better if you don’t like flying.

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Photo by Hannah Ohman

I did some extra traveling after my program ended–which I highly recommend–and took a bus from Berlin to Prague for around 30 Euro. It was much easier (not to mention cheaper) than flying and I got to see the countryside on the way, something you miss out on when you fly! There was also a “bus attendant” who sold snacks and drinks on the ride. Buses are an easy way to get from place to place; my friend took a bus from London to Amsterdam across the sea! Pretty cool, right?

So, don’t rule out taking a bus to travel in Europe. Everything is so close together it doesn’t take long to get between major cities and attractions. You don’t have to spend all that time getting to an airport and going through security, asking yourself “Should I take off my shoes?” (Answer: you don’t always need to take your shoes off like you do in the United States.)

 

Trains

Unlike in the States, trains are everywhere in Europe. High speed trains generally cost less than a flight and a bit more than a bus, and can often be the fastest option. My sister and I took a high speed train from Rome to Florence for an afternoon and it was amazingly easy. We spent about 45 euros for a one-way ticket to get to Florence (also known as Firenze so don’t let that confuse you when you are buying tickets) and it took about an hour and a half. No way would we have been able to see Florence in just a couple hours if we had to take a bus or fly, so trains were a great middle ground.

 

Skyscanner, etc.

There are many flight scanning websites, like Skyscanner, that will help put together the cheapest combination of flights for you. This can be a massive help when you’re trying to fly for cheap, but don’t know how to find the cheapest flights on your own. Keep in mind, however, that the cheapest flights will probably be early in the morning or late at night. Do you really want to be landing in a foreign city you know nothing about at 1:00 am? Probably not, but it’s up to you. You also can’t check in to a lot of hostels super late at night so you might find yourself sleeping in the airport.

 

Hostelworld

Europe is the hostel hot-spot of the world, good and bad. Your parents will be happy to know that hostels today are nothing like they were when they were in college. I never felt unsafe in a hostel at any time traveling in Europe, and I stayed in over 20 hostels. Most hostels boast a bar, free breakfast, option of room size and all female dorms for a little added safety and comfort for female travelers. This site lets you search by location, price and rating. There are tons of reviews so you know exactly what you are getting yourself into when you get there. I would highly recommend Berlin Plus in Berlin, Wombats City Hostel in London and Loft Hostel in Reykjavik. Make sure to book ahead of time if you want to get a spot in the better hostels!

 

Don’t sweat the small stuff

When you’re doing so much traveling things are bound to go wrong, and you know what? You just have to accept it and and move on. On my way from the United States to Spain I had a two layovers. The flight at my first layover was delayed by 3 hours so I missed my connecting flight and had to wait 7 hours in the Brussels airport for the next flight. I was already anxious to be going abroad for the next 6 months and this didn’t help. Looking back it’s just one of those learning experiences that will help you become a better traveler.

Just remember: sometimes cheap tickets = cheap thrills. The moral of the story? There are tons of ways to travel around Europe on a budget, but you need to be flexible and take into account all aspects of your trip. Affordable travel frees up money to do more on your trip, so do your research! It’s easy to find good information about the cities you’re traveling to and cheap ways to do it. Now, go out and explore!

Work Hard, Play Hard: Why You Should Intern Abroad

By Sola Lawal

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Photo by Sola Lawal

Studying abroad gives you the incredible opportunity to build and expand your intercultural competence in just about any country, but if you really want to push yourself, try interning abroad as well! When I first attended a peer advising session at the education abroad office I was given many options on features I wanted included in my program and interning was one that piqued my interest the most. I already needed internship credit to graduate and what better way to knock that out than in an exciting and new country? Through our office, there are many programs that offer internships for students studying abroad and I was easily able to find one that would supplement journalism credit that I needed. I had the fulfilling experience of studying and interning abroad in Prague, Czech Republic in the spring of 2016. The experience was incredibly enriching for me and I encourage everyone to look into their options for interning abroad as well! Here’s why:

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Photo by Sola Lawal
  1. Build those intercultural competence skills!

Intercultural competence is the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures. When I studied abroad, I was expected to email and communicate with potential employers and navigate the streets of Prague to attend multiple interviews that I had set up with them. My interviews were within the first week of arriving in Prague and I was immediately pushed out of my comfort zone and into a work environment unfamiliar to me. I had to navigate this process in a professional and adaptable manner in order to impress possible employers and land an internship.

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Photo by Sola Lawal

Interning abroad gives you a unique perspective on any given culture by allowing you to work directly with its people. You have the opportunity to be in a workplace environment different than your past work experiences at home and you’ll be working within a real life, hands-on setting and building new, dynamic relationships with your boss and coworkers. Through these relationships you’ll be able to further your immersion within the local community and adapt as you grow to understand cultural norms that can’t be taught in a classroom.

 

  1. Get recognized globally!

Interning abroad gives a whole new meaning to the word ‘networking’. Having connections all over the world is an advantage unique to working internationally. Whether or not you decide to choose an internship that is in the field of your major, you’ll have the opportunity to build strong relationships with people you cross paths with in the workplace.

 

Let’s face it: no one enjoys schmoozing, but it can be an important part of opening up new possibilities. For my internship, I worked at a coworking space for location-independent workers, which meant I was exposed to new and exciting people almost every day. That made the process of networking much more lively and fulfilling. Think about it this way: what other experience will give you the opportunity to create a global network of connections while still in college?

 

  1. Resume builder

Sure, all intern experience is a résumé builder, but interning abroad gives you a uniqueness that will definitely intrigue future employers. Instead of just saying that you aren’t afraid of a challenge and are able to work in situations unfamiliar to you, you’ll be able to show them by speaking from past experiences. Interning abroad proves that you’re adaptable, resilient, and responsible!

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Photo by Sola Lawal
  1. Credits, credits, credits

Getting credits for interning abroad isn’t guaranteed, but it is very much possible. For my major it was required for me to fulfill internship hours and I was stressed about completing my those hours on time and finding a fulfilling work experience to do so. Interning abroad gave me the opportunity to satisfy necessary credits while working for a great company. Even if you don’t need an internship to graduate, work experience is always an enriching complement to your studies.

 

  1. The growing experience

At first, the idea of finding and completing an internship in a country completely unfamiliar to you may seem a bit daunting, but stepping outside of your comfort zone pushes you to grow and once you have this experience under your belt, you’ll be ready to take on so much more. Working abroad gave me the unique experience that challenged me differently than any previous work experience I’ve had. It will allow you to gain a unique expertise that you wouldn’t have expected possible. Taking on these new experiences will allow you to learn more about yourself as well as the world around you.

 

Take control of your education abroad experience! Think critically about what you’d like to gain from your experience abroad and what actions you need to take to ensure that. Check out your options for working abroad and come into our office to speak with an advisor about opportunities available to you.

The Perks of Being a Homestayer

By Conor Ryan

You’re looking at your study abroad pre-departure checklist and everything is checked off except the housing section. It’s time to make a decision! Choosing where to live while you’re abroad is a big decision that can have a really meaningful impact on what kind of experience you’ll have. There are tons of different housing options out there, ranging from residence halls to apartments. To help narrow down your search I’d like to share some of the ups and downs that come with living in a homestay. As a study abroad returnee that stayed with a host family, I can say that it was the best decision of my study abroad experience, allowing me to grow in ways that never would have imagined. My name is Conor Ryan and I am a senior here at CU and I studied abroad in Paris, France for the academic year of 2015-2016. Each homestay family is unique, and for me personally, my family-away-from-home truly made my experience unforgettable.

 

Benefits of a homestay…

 

Cultural immersion:

One of the biggest perks of living with a homestay family is getting to witness everyday life in another culture. You could be placed with a big, kooky family in a simple house covered by palm trees; or with an elderly couple reminiscent of your grandparents in a massive, metropolitan city—or anything in-between. Either way, the family you live with will take you in as their own and show you the ropes so you can thrive in your host city and in your overall study abroad experience.Conor and host family

Additionally, living with a family opens up opportunities to be part of cultural events you would otherwise only observe from the outside. Your family might invite you to a wedding, on a visit to their country house, or even to spend a holiday with them! My host family invited me to spend the weekend with them in their country house in Giverny, France, which is home to Monet’s famed gardens. I felt like I was in a classic French movie in the countryside, with horses galloping in the fields and freshly-made cheese from the cows on their property. This type of immersion made me fall in love with France, because I was able to get an insider perspective on the beauties of the culture.

Food:

One of my favorite aspects of living in a homestay was definitely the food. We’re not talking about college dorm top ramen—rather, food that is native to the region, which gives you the chance to try new spices, sauces, fruits, vegetables, and just an opportunity to taste foods that are completely different from what you’re used to! Depending on your host family, you may even be able to learn how to cook these delicious meals and gain some culinary skills while abroad. I will always remember the pastries, jams, and pies my host mother made from fresh apples from a tree at the country house. Dinner would always start off with a soup, usually French onion, then a small hors d’oeuvre like fois gras, and after that came the meat, followed by cheese, and finally a yummy desert. Food is a great way to bond with your host family while learning more about the culture of the country where you are studying abroad.

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Studying abroad can be a daunting prospect, especially if you’ve never been away from home for an extended period before. A host family can be an automatic support line. I got sick a few times while abroad and my host mother would make me a tea concoction with ginger, lemon juice, honey, and some of her special spices. Before I knew it, I was good as new! Having the family atmosphere is a unique aspect of living in a homestay that can be a vital resource in times of stress.

Local Knowledge:

Your host family is not only your home while you are abroad, but also a valuable resource for the kind of country-specific cultural knowledge that you can’t learn in a textbook. Whether it’s assistance navigating the city, money saving tips, discovering special events around town, practicing new culinary skills, or learning cultural mannerisms, your host family is a vital resource that is there to help!

When I first arrived in Paris, I was like a lost puppy, used to walking to all my classes in a college town environment. City life was daunting. My host family gave me all sorts of advice on how to get my metro pass, the best place to pick up an espresso in my neighborhood, and even how to set up my French bank account. Especially if you are studying in a country where the language isn’t your first, the local knowledge of a host family is incredibly valuable.

Language Skills:

Finally, a special advantage that comes with living with a family is the ability to practice and refine your language skills. Since you will be living in their home and interacting with them on a daily basis, you will come in contact with words and phrases you haven’t heard before and wouldn’t pick up in a classroom—especially slang and casual conversation skills. Practice makes perfect, and a homestay means you will have plenty of time to practice speaking and listening outside of class.

Things to keep in mind…

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When making your housing decisions, it’s important to remember that a family is opening up their home to you and will have their own set of guidelines and expectations for you to follow during your time there. Since every family is different, there will be some families with little to no instructions, and others with more rules. Keep in mind the fact that homestay families genuinely love to interact with international students and want to ensure you have the best experience possible.

Dependency:

A nice benefit of living in a homestay is that you can fall back on them if anything happens, but this can end up being a negative if you are depending too much on your home stay. Although each family is different in its level of independence, relying heavily on your homestay can make it easy to spend less time exploring and interacting with other people. Get involved at your host institution, join a sports team, or even volunteer or try to get a job while abroad. I ended up babysitting a five year old boy named Leonard during my second semester, and it was a great way to get out of the house. Living in a foreign country can be intimidating, but getting out of your comfort zone is one of the best parts about studying abroad!

Parental:

One of the most common concerns about living in a homestay is that your host parents will act too parental and prevent you from having the full experience. As I mentioned before, each family is different so it is hard to generalize what yours will be like, but keep this in mind: your host parents will have lives of their own too! When I was abroad, my host parents would rarely be home in the day time and I would only see them in the evening for dinner, so I had quite a bit of alone time and a chance to do things independently.img_8428

Just as every family is different, so is every study abroad student! Some students request a very strong, close connection with their homestay family, while others want to be more independent. After you are accepted to your program, you will work with your program provider to connect with a family that fits your needs and matches your lifestyle.

Now that you know some of the pro’s and con’s of living with a homestay family while studying abroad it’s time to finish up that check list and start exploring! Whether you live in an apartment, student housing, or with a homestay family, study abroad will allow for you to grow as an individual, make new friends from all over the world, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Study abroad is timeless, it will never go out of style, and your experience is something that will be unique to you forever!

All photos: Conor Ryan

Off the Beaten Path in Spain

By Jackson Zeiler

There’s a reason that Spain consistently tops the charts for tourism. The country sports several of the greatest cities in the world, with Barcelona and Madrid frequently making the shortlist, while the mild climate makes it an outdoor paradise. Spain is one of the most popular places that Ed Abroad sends students, and with good reason. We offer programs across the country, each city presenting its own features and flairs. From major cities like Barcelona to lesser-known locales like Granada, Alicante, and Salamanca; there is a huge range of ways to immerse yourself in Spanish culture. Want to get the most out of your Spanish experience? Read on for tips and tricks to maximize your time and minimize the cost!

Travel by Bus

Forget what you know about Greyhound buses in the US. Buses in Spain (and much of Europe, for that matter) are top of the line, safe, and comfortable for travel near and far. Bus companies like ALSA have it figured out. Riders are able to buy tickets ahead of time, and even choose their seats. Entertainment is usually top-notch Spanish fare–and if sleeping is your thing you’ll be glad to know the seats recline way back.

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Photo by Sophia Minning

As an added bonus you’ll get a free countryside tour, something you don’t get on a plane. Kick back, save some cash, and see where the bus can take you.

A Mountain of Things to Do

Can’t bear the thought of a semester away from the Rockies? Give “Picos de Europe” a quick Google. Check out Mulhacen. Gawk at some pictures of the Pyranees. You’ll find that Spain is one of the most mountainous regions of Europe. Hiking isn’t the only outdoor activity that Spaniards enjoy, either. Camping, backpacking, mountain biking, rock climbing, and the legendary Camino de Santiago are all in the playbook. Do some research, get out of the city, and hit some trails.

‘Tis the Season

If you study in Spain during the spring semester, expect to have a healthy amount of time off during your term. The Spanish relish their breaks and take their long weekends extremely seriously. The late winter and spring are chock full of holidays. I remember a two week stretch where every other day was a commemorative regional holiday, religious observance, or outright national holiday. The Spanish will go so far as to declare puentes (bridges) between holidays that fall two or three days apart; the logic being that if another holiday is coming up soon, might as well take the days in between off!

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Photo by Kelsey Lanning

 

The biggest and most important observance in the Spanish year by far is Semana Santa, or Holy Week, which occurs during the last week of Lent right before Easter. Everything is closed for ten days and, yes, that means class is canceled too. I highly recommend staying in your city to observe some of the traditions, parades, and ceremonies that occur during this week. It will be like nothing you’ve ever seen.

 

Food for Thought

If you even marginally enjoy eating, I have good news for you. Each of Spain’s seventeen Autonomous Communities sport their own cuisine and they don’t mess around. Try out the varied seafoods of Galicia, Cantabria, and the Basque Country. The Roman and Arab influences in Andalusia give Sevilla and Granada a flash of wild flavor. Pastries are particularly good in Catalunya. Paella should only be consumed in Valencia, full stop. Sate your cheese-craving in Castilla-La Mancha. Try the pintxos (tapas) in Navarra and caracoles (snails) in Madrid. And jamón, commonly known as ham. Jamón is everywhere (luckily).

A Tried and True Culinary Tradition

Yeah, we’re not done with food yet. Tapas are quintessentially Spanish, and no one takes them more seriously than the people of Spain’s southern region of Andalusia. Tapas are small plates, similar to appetizers, of traditional or experimental food, usually served in bars. They pair great with conversation, drinks, and outdoor terraces. In Granada, any bar or restaurant of repute will supply a free tapa to any customer who orders a drink. This tradition made its way to Sevilla, the capital of the region, and from there to the surrounding areas where it is now ubiquitous. Tapas increase in size and quality as more drinks are ordered, so expect the waiter to really spoil you after a few rounds. That, or move from place and place and sample your way through an entire neighborhood!

Spain, Granada by Hannah Farrar 'View through archway' summer, 2015.JPG
Photo by Hannah Farrar

The World’s Sport

A stay in Spain would be incomplete without seeing a football match between two teams in the world’s toughest soccer league. Players worldwide aspire to be picked up by any team in La Liga, meaning even the teams at the bottom of the division will give teams from another league a show. Real Madrid, Barcelona, and Atletico de Madrid are Spain’s top winners, and it’s definitely worth seeing one of these teams play. El Clásico is going to absolutely destroy your budget, though—luckily La Liga is rife with other heated rivalries. Arguably deeper than the rivalry between Barcelona and Real Madrid is the Seville Derby between the city’s two teams, Real Betis and Sevilla FC. The matchup divides the city. Sevilla FC has had more European League appearances, giving it a wider fanbase across Spain and Europe, while Betis is historically the people’s team, especially emblematic of the working class. Whichever team you pick, you can be sure you’ll learn some colorful language from the many chants each team has for the other.

Arte Madrileño

Need an affordable weekend art fix? Look no further than Madrid! With over forty art museums, ranging from trendy galleries to world-class locales rivaling the Louvre, Madrid will surpass the expectations of even the most hardened critic. Hit the mains first, starting with the Prado. Peep at Goya and Velázquez before heading over to the Reina Sofia to see Guernica and other Picasso works, as well as famous cubism by artists like Juan Gris.

If you are an art and architecture guru, make sure to check out the City of Arts complex in Valencia and of course Barcelona for Gaudi.

Know the Way

A great way to start or end a semester in Spain is with the Camino de Santiago, or the Way of St. James, an ancient pilgrimage route that sees thousands of visitors a year. While walking for several weeks doesn’t appeal to everyone, there is no better way to experience the Spanish countryside. The path is actually significantly longer than the chunk that runs through Spain, continuing on through much of Europe—sounds like the beginnings of a unique trip idea to me…

Island Hopping East and West

 

SPAIN, Mallorca - by Chris Fenton, 'Sunset Cloud'.jpg
Photo by Chris Fenton

Turns out Ibiza isn’t the only island in the Balearics. Palma de Mallorca has everything that the other islands (and mainland) have, but with the benefit of more space, more beaches, more natural parks, and more things to do. Want to go further? The Canary Islands, off the southwest coast of Morocco, offer tons to do, with access to Spain’s highest mountain, Teide, and the national park that contains it. Even better, it’s only a quick hop to Agadir to start a new journey through Morocco!

Exchange Spotlight: University of East Anglia (Norwich, England)

By Bryce Patterson

I arrived a little past dark in early January, 2014. The taxi ride to our apartments in the city center took us, a cluster of international students, through rainy streets, past rows of classic British duplexes, along pieces of the medieval wall that surrounded the original village, and down through cobblestone streets to our complex on the banks of the river Yar. It was too dark that night to see the spire of the cathedral, the iconic centerpiece of the city. Jet-lagged and exhausted by hours of travel, I crashed and burned within minutes of entering my apartment.

With my circadian rhythms several time zones behind my physical surroundings, I was up before the sun and shrugging on my rain jacket. Within an hour of exploration, I learned two things. One: always look upwards while walking. The glass store-fronts of much of the city are not especially awe-inspiring. Not awe-inspiring, that is, until you take the time to look up. That’s when you realize that the building that houses your grocery store predates the founding of the United States, often by hundreds of years. In Norwich, England, most things do. Thrift-shopping in the city is a religious experience for a history buff like me.
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Follow the Locals: Traveling on a Dime in India and China

By Hannah Farrar

My name is Hannah Farrar and I am a program manager at Education Abroad. I came into the office as a student peer advisor for my senior year, before graduating with a bachelor’s in International Affairs in 2014. I have had the privilege to travel quite a bit throughout my life, but the two month trip I spent post-graduation travelling China and India with my father was one of the most formative.

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Photo by Hannah Farrar

It was an experience that pushed us both far outside our comfort zones and one that taught us immeasurable lessons. But there are books and websites full of stories about the value of travel. Truth be told, if you are reading this, you likely already have the itch to go, so I probably don’t need to sell you on that. If you are at all like me, you probably grapple with where to go, the question of if never crossing your mind.

One of the main obstacles many of us face – and the one that may very quickly make your dreams seem impossible – is the number in our bank accounts.

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Education Abroad is Extending Our Deadlines!

Want to go abroad, but struggling to finish an application? Don’t panic! Education Abroad is extending deadlines for many of our programs, so there’s still time to plan for the experience of a lifetime! New deadlines range from 3/1 – 3/13. Finishing an application is easy- most can be completed in 1-2 days.

How do you want to spend your summer? Extended deadlines mean that you can:

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  • Take care of your UD Written Communication requirement in Dublin this June
  • Knock out your Human Diversity core requirement in three weeks in Indonesia
  • Spend Maymester doing independent field research in the Czech Republic
  • Spend five weeks teaching English in China—complete with a $750 scholarship for accepted students!
  • Go to Sydney, London, or Florence, and explore world-class global cities while taking classes to keep you on track for graduation
  • And much, much more!

Want to spend your whole fall semester abroad? There’s still time to:

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Know that you want to go abroad in 2017, but not sure where to begin? Start with Abroad 101, a brief video that you can access on our website; then connect with an Education Abroad advisor via in-person drop-in advising, phone, email, or live chat to open an application!

Beating Reverse Culture Shock

By Bri Dascher

So, you’re finally home after a semester (or year, or summer) abroad. You put on your best pair of bravery pants, you hopped on an international flight bound for adventure, and you learned more about yourself and the world than you ever thought possible.

And now, after weeks to months spent exploring and figuring out how to navigate all those quirks that felt so terrifying when you first landed in your host country, you’re back home. While you knew you’d certainly be torn when this moment came – a part of you was so excited to get back to the people you love and the creature comforts of home, and another part was just as sad to go – you really had no idea what you were getting into.

In fact, it’s not nearly the relief you thought it would be. After fighting intense cravings for ice cubes and public bathrooms and not having to convert currency in your head for every transaction for months, you’re back – and nothing is right.
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