Spending a semester abroad can be a lot of fun, but being abroad for awhile can start to take its toll on you when traveling around a foreign country. While I had the best time studying at Kingston University in London this summer, I also broadened my cultural horizons and learned a few things about traveling and surviving in a foreign country.
For those going abroad for the upcoming semester or planning a trip to Europe anytime soon, here are some helpful tips to get you around:
You are from Canada: Let’s be honest – Americans like to think they rule the world, and sometimes that holier than thou attitude rubs Europeans the wrong way. Don’t go overseas acting like a stereotypical American (you know, the ones that yell loudly when speaking to someone that doesn’t understand English as if the other person is deaf…) It may be hard when adjusting to culture shock, but the best way to get past it is to simply embrace it. If you can’t … just say you’re from Canada and all the questions will go away.
“Tap Water is For The Prisoners”: When I was thirteen, I went to Europe for two weeks on a guided school trip. The tour guide told my class that only prisoners drink tap water, so we shouldn’t order it at a restaurant. Forget that, live like a prisoner. Unlike in the states, restaurants just don’t bring out water for you. They tend to bring out bottled water, and after walking around Amsterdam all day, finishing off one of those babies happens fast…as does racking up a huge bill. Unless you really have a problem drinking tap water, order it. Not only will it save you money, but it will be cold. Most restaurants will serve you room temperature bottled water, but if you want something icy cold … tap water is the only way you’ll get those extra ice cubes. Free, cold water? No complaints there!
Transportation made easy: With an abundance of train services, ferry boats, and cheap flights (EasyJet and Ryan Air – however, beware of extra fees), traveling from one country to the next is affordable and a must for any European experience. If you shop around for the best deals, you can save lots of money hopping from Belgium to France in one weekend. Although taking the train may seem foreign (trains are rarely utilized in the USA as a form of fast, easy transportation), it is the best way to see Europe. Really, how can you complain when you’re on your way to Paris for the weekend with countryside outside your window?
Hold the Anchovies: I ordered a ceasar salad expecting just you’re standard plate of lettuce and ceasar sauce, but instead, I got a plate full of anchovies (complete with their eyeballs still intact) and a mayo sauce. Make sure when ordering at a restaurant you are as specific as can be or else you may be surprised. Also, if you like your meat cooked a certain way, tell your waiter or else you’re “well done” steak may come out bloody and pink. However, if you can get past some food differences, indulge yourself in as much cultural foods as possible, i.e. when in France, live off of croissants and macaroons!
See the sights: While a lot of my study abroad group got wasted every night, a good amount chose to see the sights. You are abroad, so why are you blacked out outside of Big Ben? A big mistake that a lot of abroaders make is mixing culture with fun – they think they can’t. You paid a lot of money to go abroad, so it is important to see everything that you can. No one wants to come back from Europe to say “I skipped out on the Mona Lisa because I was hung over” or “I couldn’t climb to the top of St. Paul’s Cathedral because I was puking in a pub instead.” Party and have a great time, but prioritize what you are going to see. If you can schedule your days ahead, you can save a lot of time for partying and pub crawls later.
Be a local: Instead of eating at restaurants you are familiar with or sticking to simple tourist destinations, expand your travels and pretend you are a local. Ask opinions of the receptionist at your hostel of where to eat. Find out what shopping areas aren’t as famous and go see what you can dig up there. Try new foods and drink. For example, you can’t leave London without at least trying their fish and chips once. Don’t just stick to the same old path everyone else is, explore the beaten path and you will have a much more rewarding experience of culture and understanding of the area along the way.