There were many things I was sure I wanted to do when I went to school – studying abroad for an entire semester was one of those things. However, once I got to UVA, I could not fathom missing even a week, let alone a semester. Fall semester means football tailgates, trick-or-treating on the Lawn, hiking Humpback Rock overlooking autumn foliage, and seeing Lighting of the Lawn. Spring semester brings basketball, lacrosse, and baseball games, Foxfield, the Lawn in April. I thought missing one semester here would be the end of me.
And in that – I was sorely mistaken.
I spent a summer abroad in Europe: six weeks living in Lyon and then another three weeks of traveling through Spain, France, and Switzerland. My time spent flouncing around Europe were incredible, but the best part of the trip was definitely living in a foreign city.
Think of your childhood hometown (and if you’ve had many, then think of the one you knew best). Remember how you know all the best places to eat, where to go on Monday nights to see that great band, or the best spots in the park to watch the sun set just so. Now imagine being able to have that knowledge about a foreign city, somewhere you’ve never been.
Leaving behind everything I knew to embrace a culture, a history, (excuse the cheesiness) but I world I didn’t know changed my perspective. Don’t be afraid of what you’re leaving behind to go out and explore some place new.
I can’t speak for every study abroad program – Semester at Sea takes students around the globe and to all corners of the earth, some are rural others more urban. But here are some tips I have for anyone who is planning on spending time across the pond:
1) Don’t take candy from strangers. Also, don’t take drugs, weapons, or expensive looking gifts that may come with a social cost unless you’re willing to pay it.
2) Pack lightly. I could never get all my things in one backpack (jokes on jokes I had a huge-ass suitcase) but I did not leave enough room for all the presents I wanted to bring back.
3) Oh, right. Bring back presents for your family and the friends you like. It doesn’t have to be something big or expensive, the thought really does count here.
4) If you’re traveling in touristy areas, watch out for pickpockets. They are really good at their occupation. True life: one of the girls I was traveling with had her iPhone stolen from her cross-body back while completely sober at a club in Barcelona. Watch your stuff, especially your expensive stuff.
5) It’s ok to take a night off or have a quite day “in” (whatever that looks like for you). When you’re living somewhere else you still need your rest. Just try not to take too many days off and miss out of seeing and doing things that won’t always be at your fingertips.
6) Take pictures with you and your friends in them. Anyone can look up a picture of the Eiffel Tower or an artfully framed Leaning Tower of Pisa. Photoshopping is more difficult and, let’s be honest, a sad way to get yourself into your own pictures.
7) That being said, don’t focus all the time about documenting your adventures. If you think too much about preserving the moments, it is harder to enjoy them.
Go explore the world. You only have eight semesters at UVA, that is true, but you get the opportunity to have one semester going on adventures with all the support and resources of UVA behind you. Take advantage of it. Trust me. It’ll be worth it.