Despite all the anticipation, excitement and endless tips from past travellers, going abroad is an experience that remains undecipherable until you finally set foot in your host country. This is not to say that travel guides and detailed advice from the abroad office won’t do, but there’s really nothing that will prepare you for all you will feel—and have to deal with—while settling in your foreign home.
Since the semester is coming an end, and many of you prepare to leave East Hill this upcoming Fall for more exotic lands, I find it timely to share some thoughts on important aspects of life abroad that don’t come into perspective during the pre-departure haze. In the spirit of fellow blogger Kristen Jenkins, I present you five things to keep in mind as you pack your life for the next six months in two bags and cross the pond:
1. Expect things to be more different than imagined. My Government advisor said it, and I didn’t pay much attention — even if you are studying in a country like England, where language and culture don’t seem too distant from the United States, it will still be shocking and, at times, uncomfortable to figure your way around during the first couple of weeks. Things like printing or finding where to buy a late-night coffee, which at Cornell are simply “clicks” away, might be a huge hassle in your host country. Fact: at Oxford, most coffee shops close before 10pm and, on Sundays, nothing is open past 8pm. Additionally, there’s no way for setting university printers to make double-sided copies of your readings. These sorts of realizations will be frustrating, and perhaps even infuriating, but you will learn how to deal with them...eventually. If need be, you can always get Mountain Dew from your local supermarket until midnight.
2. The first two weeks can be alienating, so don’t panic. This might not apply to those in Cornell sponsored programs, but if you are directly enrolled in a foreign university, be ready to feel a bit weird, for instance, when you don’t recognize anyone on your way to class. Yes, the first two weeks of your program will be packed with activities to meet other exchange students, find your new niche of friends and learn your way through the city. Still, coming from a place like Cornell, where you are constantly bumping into friends and other familiar faces, it might be hard to realize that will not be the case in your abroad destination. Expect to spend a lot of time by yourself while you create your new routine and keep meeting people during the first couple of weeks. Trust me, this “alone time” will eventually become one of the best treasures of your abroad experience.
3. Speaking of daily routines, make your own. I’m a man of tradition, which means that I like having my daily rituals. During your semester abroad, make sure to start your own daily routine. Try to wake up at a consistent time every day; find a food shop that you like and stick to it. Having a daily routine will make your abroad destination feel like home in just a matter of weeks. Follow my advice, and you’ll see how awesome it is for the lady at your favorite sandwich shop to know you by name and guess what are you ordering.
4. As much as I like routines, make sure to try something different every week. “Semester abroad” are two words that invoke pretty much the pinnacle of debauchery in the American collegiate imagination. However, wherever you go abroad, make sure to engage in the wide array of non-raging (i.e. cultural) activities in your host city. During the last four months, I have tried to, at least, attend a play, concert or different museum on a weekly basis. These activities usually don’t cost much, and strike a healthy balance with the pub/club overload of every weekend (or weekday). So try them, it will impress the elders in your family, while also advancing illusions of maturity and adulthood.
5. No matter what, appreciate the moment. Semester abroad only happens once. This will probably be the last time in your life that a foreign country will be your “home” for a prolonged period, while holding little responsibilities and enjoying the company of new friends. If you think that Cornell is not real life, seriously, wait until you go abroad. During my first few days at Oxford, I was in complete awe with the city’s beauty. But, as my dad, Patricio Sr., has always told me: “Familiarity brings contempt.” After just a couple of days, I lost sight of the city’s charm under the midst of quotidianity. When this happens, pinch yourself and recall how special are your current surroundings. Even when you miss that Ryanair flight while experiencing the mother of all hangovers, remain mindful of how lucky you are for going through such an incredible semester-long experience. No matter what goes down, as the Brits have taught the world, always remember to Keep Calm...And Abroad On (by the way, don’t miss rel="nofollow">this video retelling the story of the WWII poster turned 21st century pop culture symbol).
Patricio Martinez is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Notes from Abroad: Travel Tips appears on Thursdays.