April 17, 2020

STELLA | The Cornellian’s Guide to Abroad

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“In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.” The oraculous Douglas Adams once wrote a book about a book about surviving the Universe and its contents. Diseases that cause global house arrest wouldn’t exist if the Universe didn’t, but then again, neither would Pokémon Emerald or Joe Exotic. One thing that has made our Universe slightly more tolerable (before the age of quarantine) is the ability to travel while “studying” on our little, blue, insignificant planet. It makes us feel more significant (as we can tell by the abundance of social media outbursts from local acquaintances in foreign countries). Having been abroad for an entire two months before the pandemic, I think it’s safe to say I, and this class of traveling Cornellians, are now experts. So here are some tips and warnings about going abroad.

Chapter I: Survival of the Fittest

Remembering to buy toilet paper is hard. While abroad, you’re normally living alone — no Cornell staff or roommates to help restock. Grabbing at an empty roll is scarier than realizing your camera has been on for the entire zoom class. Toilet paper is on everyone’s minds at the moment, as TP hoarding has replaced baseball as the national pastime. People are forced to get creative. Tissues, takeout napkins — hell, even an old bandana will do in a pinch. But when toilet paper’s in strong supply, stocking up slips your mind. Make sure to always have reserves. Even if you run out mid-bathroom trip, a duck-walk over to the closet is better than ruining an old bandana…

Another transition that comes with the individuality abroad provides is in cooking. Many Cornellians abuse Big Red Bucks and spend a fortune in College Town for dinners. For those in dorms or Greek life housing, meal plans are typical. If you hadn’t learned previously, cooking for yourself can be a burden abroad. I had an apartment mate who made scrambled eggs for every dinner. Somehow, they turned out under or overcooked every time. At least he saved it with hot sauce.

Chapter II: Travel

It’s about striking a balance. Some of your high school friends are abroad, some college friends; it’s important to see them all and get different experiences in different places with people who’ve known you since you had a bowl cut and people who you graffiti the attic of your fraternity house with. However, you also need to make time for yourself. Traveling alone is revitalizing. There’s no need to compromise or take anyone else’s opinions into consideration when planning out your day. It’s a period of time dedicated to unconditional selfishness. As Cornellians, we’re all vain enough to want that, and if you think you don’t, you’re probably a psych major like my brother and think you’re more self-aware than the rest of us. Well, I see bats when I look at Rorschach tests; does that mean I dress up in black and impose vigilante justice on local criminals at night? …don’t tell Alfred…

There is one bad thing about traveling alone: eating by yourself is a new level of awkward. I travelled to a little town in southern Ireland for my first solo trip. The first meal I ate by myself ended up being the night of Valentine’s Day. I got stares oozing with pity and the waitress repeatedly checked on me to make sure I was okay. Everyone thought I got stood up. I had no one across the table from me to stay coherent for. Gin and tonics solved the one con of traveling alone.

When traveling abroad, things get expensive. Find free activities to do in the cities you visit. Instead of a walking tour, let yourself get lost in the different neighborhoods. Instead of going to concerts, listen to street music and offer a small tip. Most importantly, meet married couples; they’ll buy you two pints even if you insist on paying for yourself.

Chapter III: Hostels

A lot of us succumb to the appeal of these bastards — cheaper for a bed than a sandwich at Zeus. Don’t succumb. Spend the money you saved during the day on a cheap AirBnB. I stayed in three hostels in my short time abroad, booking all of them before I’d ever stayed in a hostel before. That was three too many. Whether it’s a room filled with six snorers or the ten minutes spent psyching yourself up to brave the communal showers barefoot, curling your toes to limit the surface area to fungal foot follicles, hostels are cheap for a reason.

One of my hostels had a sleepwalker. He wasn’t one of the harmless ones. While asleep, he opened my luggage, had a brief conversation with me and tried to get under my covers. All while pantsless. Don’t go to hostels.

Chapter IV: School

Don’t worry about this.

Chapter V: Parting Words

Abroad is about taking a common college practice and making it your own: Getting lost, venturing into the city and the country, meeting locals, trying new cuisines (maybe not black pudding in Ireland; at least don’t ask what’s in it after you eat it). Reaching out to people who have gone to the country you’re considering is a great idea, but ultimately your experience will depend entirely on you. Scary, but just remember: “Don’t Panic.” Oh, and bring your towel; “it has great practical value ” — you can use it as a blanket when your hostel’s has mysterious stains, you can lie on it while sunbathing in Porto, wrap it around your face if the coronavirus makes a comeback next spring or, in a pinch, use it as a replacement for toilet paper.

AJ Stella is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at astella@cornellsun.com. Stellin’ It Like It Is runs every other Friday this semester.