When people first sign up to a Study Abroad programme, they tend to have a lot of preconceived ideas. Students from all over the world troop to their chosen destination; wide-eyed, full of heart, and envisioning one heck of a semester…
But when you are bombarded with reams of official documents, application forms, information pamphlets and anecdotes from previous students who achieved study abroad success, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed…
Just don’t panic.
You’ve been told before and you’ll be told again that you’re in for the time of your life, but just remember that things do go wrong and it’s best that you’re prepared when they do. Conduct your research thoroughly and consult your student adviser, but remember- they really don’t know everything.
So, before you go, here are a few things they probably forgot to tell you about studying abroad in Europe:
1. Studying abroad can be expensive- but it doesn’t have to be.
Some European countries will make you pay to use the public toilets, a familiar sign that says this trip could fatally wound your bank account (especially if you have a weak bladder). Depending on the value of your home currency, your budget will either make you feel like a bonafide hustler with a License to Bill, or a paltry pauper whose life’s gone downhill…
But don’t prepare to mourn the death of your Bank Account just yet; there are actually a lot of European countries that will stretch your currency much further than others. If you’re concerned for the well-being of your funds, maybe choose a country somewhere in Eastern Europe. If your heart is set on countries like Italy, Switzerland, Germany or Denmark, you have to accept that they come at a pretty hefty cost.
But countries like Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovenia and Romania are not only easy on the eyes, they are also considerably easier on the wallet…
2. Studying is not always the top priority.
Yes, you are there to get an education, but what’s the point in venturing to a whole other country to get it if you never step off of campus? Yeah, you should definitely strive for that A Grade, but you’re in Europe pal, get out there and EXPLORE! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, which means- guess what- that you won’t be able to do it again. A few days ago, this new world before you was way out of your boundaries, and a massive part of your international education is to reflect and accept the culture you delved into. It’s okay to skip a few classes- but don’t go pushing your luck! Just remember that employers all over the world are in need of highly qualified employees with a sound understanding of the world, as well as an international perspective- you’ll be like gold dust to industry in any realm and country, but NOT if you failed your degree because you skipped too many classes…
You only have one chance to get this right, so seriously- don’t mess up! Just be sure to make the best of both worlds, because your education DOES NOT and SHOULD NOT end within the four walls of the classroom.
3. Immigration documents are your own responsibility.
Do you know what will happen if you don’t possess the right documents? You will be an illegal immigrant and you will get deported…
Again, you just need to be sure that you’ve done your research thoroughly- visas, study permits, work permits- they are all incredibly important and also pretty complicated, so you need to make sure that you fully understand and have correctly applied for all the right documents, or the consequences could be truly catastrophic.
4. Don’t feel restricted to a single location.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again- you’re in Europe!! Make the most of it, why don’t you?! There are a whole host of countries you can get to really easily through a budget airline, overnight bus, and please please pleeeeease make use of the public rail!
Europe has some amazing high-speed bullet trains that tavel up to 200mph. When will you get the chance to expierience that again? So, they’re super fast but also surprisingly comfortable, and of course train is a really convenient way to get from A to B. Check out the stunning countryside as you ride right on through it- really, what could be better? Just make sure you plan your trips carefully- keep all important documents safe and make note of all the train times in case you miss a connection. And please- don’t be late for your Monday morning lecture!
5. Pack sensibly.
You’re probably all going to sneer at this, but then you’ll be the ones carrying a tonne of unecessary luggage around the streets of Europe…
You don’t need a different outfit for every imaginable occasion, and you don’t need to pack the essentials when you can get hold of them when you’re out there. It’s inevitable that you’ll come back with ten times more than you went out with anyway. You can almost guarantee that the things you’ll need you’ll leave behind and the things you have no use for are piled up in your bags- don’t worry, we’ve all been there.
Take time over your packing and really think about it carefully. Write yourself a list and be utterly ruthless- haven’t used this item in over a month? Well, you’re probably not going to need it!
For more advice on how to pack effectively, see our article: 7 Mistake to Avoid When Moving to Study Abroad
6. Learn how to say “Thank You”.
Get used to miming exactly what’s on your mind and prepare to expand your mind with the wonders of a new language. Okay, so becoming fluent in a language takes a lot of time and effort, and no one is expecting you to become master of the tongue as you work through your full-time studies. Nevertheless, you are in a completely new country and you really should embrace it; learn as much as you can and don’t be afraid to ask questions- you might look like a loony as you frantically wave your arms around, but the locals will really appreciate you trying your best to adapt to their culture. You won’t be the first foreigner to instigate a public game of charades and you certainly won’t be the last. We all know that nothing is more frustrating than an intrusive language barrier, so it’s your duty to try your best to beat that sucker down!
Just be sure to learn the local term for “Thank You”, because of course, it’s common courtesy and you’ll be using it a lot.
7. Pay close attention to the country’s pedestrian laws.
In Amsterdam, the push-bike is King. In Prague, the red light doesn’t stand for the time you have to cross the street, but the time the cars have to wait before they can go. Every country has its own set of rules and it’s really important that you take note of these so you don’t wind up in trouble.
Imagine how embarrassing it would be to have to tell your friends you got deported because you didn’t know how to cross the road…
8. The grading system might be different to your Uni back at home.
If you’re a grade B student back home but here you are a C, don’t feel down about it; just remember that the way they mark papers in your host country is a lot different from home. In some countries in Europe, 70 out of 100 would be considered a really good grade, and a C grade is really nothing to frown upon. Don’t rest too much on the grades you get for your papers, because most subjects have tests at the end of the semester that are designed to demonstrate exactly what you’ve learned.
9. Bear in mind that the strength of Alcohol in your host country will be different to back home.
Cheaper. Stronger. Better.
This is what tends to be the case in most European countries. You might end up forking out for the price of bottled water, but at least you know a glass of wine or a cheeky pint won’t exactly break the bank. But, BE WARNED! With these smaller prices comes a much higher percentage, so understand that you might not need as much as you did back home and try to drink responsibly.
10. Europeans love to queue…
Whether you’re queuing for the Collosseum, the Tate, the Louvre, the Vatican, or the toilets at Oktoberfest, just calm down and take a deep breath and remember- it will all be worth it, especially for that queue at Oktoberfest, boy will your bladder be glad…
You’ll find that even the less popular attractions are attached to a queue, and though at first you may find it frustrating, you’ll soon find that there’s really no way round it, and so you’re forced to get used to it.
Besides, some of the best friends there is to be made can be made in the midst of a queue…
11. For some people, deodorant is a luxury, not at all a necessity.
Well, it might be a necessity for you but it certainly isn’t for others. This is something you’re sure to find out as you venture round Europe, sitting next to people on buses, trains, talking to people in the street and hugging friendly new acquaintances…not all of them will have invested in a pleasant antiperspirant so not all of them will smell as fresh as you may first have hoped. It will take some getting used to, but who knows, maybe after a few months you’ll chuck yours away, too. Forget about Free the Nipple, it’s all about Free the Pits!
12. Don’t forget your Student ID!
You can get free entry to loads of cool places and discounts on loads of free stuff…need I say more?
13. If there’s no phone service and no internet, it’s probably not a bad thing.
Okay, so you need the internet to do your work, but you know that there’ll always be a working connection at the University itself. When you move into your new home, you may not have internet to start with, and though this may be annoying it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Losing touch with your newsfeed, your GPS, and you emails means you can immerse yourself in your new culture, and it’s times like this that you really learn a lot about yourself, too. Put down the devices and just enjoy the world, even if it is only for a short period of time.
14. Pick-pocketing is very much an art in some regions of Europe.
No one ever thinks it will happen to them until it happens to them, and in Europe, if your stuff is on show then they’ll definitely try to nab it. It might be worth investing in a belt wallet, or at least don’t use a bag or wallet that doesn’t fasten firmly and completely. If there’s one way you can make a grown student cry it’s by stealing their last bill…
15. You definitely will get lost.
Pay close attention to your surroundings, remember the name of the Metro station closest to where you live and just try to make the best out of the situation if you get hopelessly lost.
It’s never a good idea to talk to strangers, and you certainly shouldn’t start now, but if you really have no idea where you are, pop into a local bar or restaurant and ask for the Manager, maybe they can help you. Don’t go walking down any strange dark alleys and try not to be on your own. This stuff has been drilled into you since you were practically in utero so there’s really no excuse for foolish-lost behaviour!
16. Keep a travel journal.
Buy a sturdy notebook that you can keep with you at all times, and try to write as much as you can about everything you encounter. The sights, sounds, smells, funny things people said, random thoughts you had, who you are missing, who you aren’t missing, things that remind you of home and things you wish you could take home…
Just remember- these are precious, precious memories, and memories are bound to fade. Once you lose them, you can’t ever get them back, and there’s only so far that a photograph can take you. Your own words down on paper will create an everlasting memory that no one can take away. Keep all your tickets, all your receipts and every pointless momento to stick them in a scrapbook.
When you’re old and overcome with the tide of the nostalgia, you might just find yourself thinking that journal was the best thing you ever did.
Image via Shutterstock.