Savanna Steck, Illinois Wesleyan University
When you study abroad there are usually a whole host of orientations and packets to read about how to “fit in”. These are usually pretty helpful with hints like: “Look up the weather” or “Bring a bag that can’t be pickpocketed”. But then there are some other types of advice that maybe aren’t entirely true. I’m currently studying abroad in Spain and was astounded by how many misconceptions there are about the way things work. So here’s five things that no one tells you when you go abroad.
1. Everyone wears tennis shoes.
I don’t know how many times I heard “Don’t bring tennis shoes cause no one in Europe wears them. You’ll just look like a tourist.” Now I’m not saying that people in Europe don’t wear nice shoes. They wear whatever shoes they feel like. So if your tennis shoes are comfortable, then bring them, and if you’re worried about still looking like a tourist then invest in a nice pair of tennis shoes in a neutral color. You can never go wrong with black or white.
2. Nobody dresses to the nines every day.
Another thing I was told was that no one in Europe ever wore lazy clothing. No one would be in leggings or sweatshirts. That’s not entirely true either. Clothes, like shoes, are clothes. People are gonna wear a variety of them. I’ve seen people in every type and style of clothing. So if you want to wear that sweatshirt do it. Cause there’ll be someone else on the metro in one too.
3. You’re probably (definitely) going to get sick….maybe a lot.
I know the program directors and just about everyone else leading my study abroad program told us where the hospital was or a pharmacy, but they never mentioned that we might just get a cold…a lot. It’s no big deal of course but no one warned us that it really is a shock for your body to be in this new environment. At college we don’t have a metro, so we’re not in contact with so many people who also might be sick. Your body will have to adjust, and while it does you might have a pesky runny nose.
4. You’re going to get weird questions that might seem a little insulting.
Please remember that as much as this is an experience for you, it’s probably an experience for the people you’re coming in contact with too. I know that my program stressed how you want to research the place you’re going so you don’t look like an ignorant tourist. Learn a bit of the language, be respectful. And I did all that, but that doesn’t mean that the people around me know anything about where I’m from. I don’t know how many times I’ve gotten asked “Do you know what soccer is?” or people have been surprised when I understand a word that’s a very common English word. And I have to remind myself that its okay, these people are asking because they genuinely don’t know. And that’s okay cause I don’t know everything either.
5. It’s okay to watch Netflix.
Our program director told us that if we spend our time watching Netflix then we shouldn’t have studied abroad. That was a little harsh. Sometimes you need to take a break and relax. So watch a couple episodes of your favorite show. Stay in on a Friday night. It’s okay not to be doing something 24/7. Sometimes your body and mind need a little beak. That’s healthy, and in no way are you wasting your time.