10 Things I Learned While Studying Abroad

FRIENDS! We're finally here – the first blog post of 2017. Boy, have I missed blogging and connecting with you all! How are you? I hope you've had a wonderful year thus far.

I'm currently getting settled back into school for my spring semester, and I'm honestly already feeling like it is going to be less stressful than last semester. I'm taking one less class and focusing on my self care and organization. 

Now, the reason I haven't blogged in 2017 yet is because I went on a 3 week adventure to Southern Europe with an architecture course for Elon's winter term. It was the adventure of a lifetime. Here's some numbers:


3 weeks. 4 countries. 12 cities. 50+ structures. 

It was a jam packed 3 weeks to say the least! It was full of interesting history + culture, delicious foods, and lots and lots of walking. Plus, a little bit of sickness and exhaustion. (I'm going to write more about what I saw and did on Thursday of this week!) 

It was a lot to take in, and I learned some stuff along the way. So...


Here are 10 things that I learned while being abroad – USING EMOJIS!

1. Use cash, but get it before you go!

Seriously. You will not regret this. Yes, cards with chips are taken some places, but cash is definitely preferred. This is especially important if you are planning on going out to eat with large groups of people. They will not split the bill between each of you, so having cash makes this process of splitting the cost so much easier, instead of one person having to pay with a card and then everyone having to pay them back.

I would also suggest getting the cash from your bank here in the States. This is because when you take out cash from ATMs, most of the time, you will be charged a cash advance/ATM fee. There are travel cards ands other programs that will definitely work as well, so do your research.

2. Make sure you can use phone data!

Now, one of the first things I thought about when going abroad was my PHONE. How was I going to keep up with social media and such while going abroad? My family uses Verizon, and they have a program where I can my same data plan overseas and I would just pay 10 extra dollars a day. That is definitely not the cheapest option, but because this was the first time I was going abroad, my family wanted to make sure that we could communicate whenever. Plus it came in handy because while exploring, we did get lost a few times and I was fortunately able to navigate us back using my phone. You are definitely going to want some kind of data for navigation and emergencies.

Fortunately, most of the restaurants, stores, and hotels will have wifi for you to use, but I would definitely suggest getting some form of phone plan so that you can keep in touch with family/friends and navigate yourself around.

3. Pack light, but pack smart!

Make sure that you are ready for any weather! If you're going abroad in the winter, make sure you bring gear in case it gets real cold. For the summer, bring the stuff for the heat. Bring rain gear too (just in case).  I wasn't expecting the below freezing winds of Southern Europe and I regret not bringing warmer gear. 

Also, leave space in your suitcase for souvenirs and things you might buy while abroad. If you are moving around a lot, you won't want to lug a heavy piece of luggage around.

4. Journal as you go!

I had to do this as a part of my class, but I'm so glad I did. I wrote down what I saw, what was memorable, what was good, and what was not so good. I even did food reviews in my journal. It not only gives you a souvenir from the trip, but it makes you stop and really think about what you're doing abroad and what you are experiencing.

5. Be open to new foods!

So, now that I'm campus, I'm a vegetarian. I was vegetarian all of last year as well. However, for my trip to Europe, I started it as a vegetarian and then quickly realized that I really wanted to try the other foods on this once-in-a-lifetime trip. Meat was such a huge part of the diet and I didn't want to be a bother to the restaurants that were catering to such a large group (there were 30 of us). Guess what? I don't regret this decision one bit.

I got to try some amazing foods that I've never heard of and never would have tried if I hadn't opened my mind. For example, I had interesting cured meats (prosciutto is life), paella, ox tail and pork cheek in Spain, lots of tapas, tons of delicious desserts, and more. Food is such a huge part of culture and I'm so glad I got to fully experience it. 

6. Figure out your medical options!


When you are planning to go abroad, you're thinking about packing, where you are going to stay, and what you are going to do. However, you might forget the possibility of getting SICK. Yes, it can happen...quickly.

Our group had to see doctors in every single country that we traveled because people got strep, horrible colds, and ear infections. Being in a group on buses, planes, trains, and on tours causes use to spread germs real fast. I ended getting tonsillitis, which was extremely painful and a French doctor did have to come to my hotel room to prescribe me antibiotics. Fortunately, one my professors spoke French, so he was able to translate and help me get through the appointment and pharmacy.

If you are going abroad with your college, the office that is in charge of studying abroad can answer any questions about medical services, expenses, and insurance. 

7. Be as simple as possible. (You are the visitor)

Now this is something I noticed (particularly at meals) that I wanted to remind you. When you are going abroad, keep in mind that you are the visitor. You've stepped into another culture that is not your own and are asking to be invited into the places you go. Be respectful and respect the traditions and customs of the places you go.

If you do have certain preferences or need certain accommodations, have patience and work with those at the places you go. What you need might be out of the ordinary for the place you are going and if there's a language barrier, it gets even tougher.

With that in mind, I would say just try to keep things as simple as possible if you can.

8. Traveling is exhausting, so REST!

REST WHEN YOU CAN. Seriously, traveling exhausts your body. You'll be getting on planes, switching time zones, and walking quite a lot. Make sure you sleep and take care of yourself. 

I only went three weeks and it wore me out. If you're going a semester or a year, definitely schedule time to let your body catch up with you.

9. Take lots of photos, but take it in your self

I get it. It's so exciting to go to cool places because you can make some awesome Instagram content. Believe me, I took over 3,800 photos while abroad, and I was thinking about social media a lot. However, I made sure that I was taking moments to take the culture and sights in with my own eyes – not behind my iPhone camera.

I remember walking the streets of the cities and just taking it all in. It's honestly so cool to go through a foreign city with open eyes and look at everything. Take moments to realize where you are and what you're doing. It's incredible.

10. Study the basics of the language before you go!

This is important!! If you are going to a place that speaks a different language(s), take a little bit of time before your trip or on the flight over to learn simple phrases. I was in four different countries that spoke 5 different languages, and I regret not studying a little bit before hand. (I knew some Spanish before hand, but it had been a while)

Phrases like "Thank you/I'm sorry/Where's the bathroom/Do you speak English"  will help tremendously when taking with waiters, tour guides, and other people you meet. This is especially important if you have food allergies or need particular assistance in anything.

I hope that some of these tips might help you if you are planning on going abroad anytime soon! If you are going somewhere, WHERE ARE YOU HEADED? Let me know on social media and in the comments below!

On Thursday, I'm going to dive into where I actually went and show you some more photos.

Thanks for reading - again, I'm so excited to be back and blogging. Let me know if there's anything in particular you want to see on the blog!

See you back here in two days :)


Fletcher Rowe@feistyfletch