Learning from Time Abroad
In the spring of 2015, my daughter Julie had the good fortune of spending a college semester in Prague, in the Czech Republic. A year later, reflecting on the experience, she shared the following lessons from her experience. I’m sharing them here because her learning is applicable to many other life situations:
- Go with your gut, speak up if you don’t agree with something or aren’t comfortable. My first week came with hurdles I’d never experienced before. I had little sleep, not enough to eat, and was in a city that I didn’t know, where they spoke a language I didn’t understand! But with time, I figured out what I needed to do to be more comfortable, happy, and what made sense for me.
- Let loose: try something new each day or week. It’s easy to do what everyone else is doing: for example, going to the same club each week. Instead, go to a local bar: change it up!
- It’s okay and normal to be homesick. I was used to being away for periods of time having spent the prior 12 summers at sleep-away camp, so I didn’t expect it to be as hard as it was in the beginning in Prague. But, I let it happen and things got easier.
- Take advantage of no Wi-Fi. Even if you have a smartphone, you may go a day without Wi-Fi, and it will be okay! The latest Instagram posts will still be there when you return, you will get through the day, and you may realize it’s nice to sometimes disconnect. Take advantage of the moment, look around, appreciate what you are surrounded by.
- Put down your camera and take in the view. This is not an easy thing to do. Of course, you want to have wonderful pictures, but don’t forget to take in the view with your eyes.
- Stay in a hostel at least once. It’s a great way to meet people from all over the world and it’s inexpensive.
- When in doubt, tell yourself, “Get over it. I’m abroad.” Whatever the issue, remember this is a once in a lifetime experience. Do what you want to do in the moment, and also remember you want to look back and know you took advantage of every experience.
- Surround yourself with new types of people, and people who bring out the best in you. There are many different types of people in, and outside of, your program. Take advantage of that.
- Live by the motto “day by day.” No explanation needed.
- Skip class. What I mean is when the semester is coming to an end, and you haven’t yet had to use your two permitted absences, take advantage of them. In the meantime, take interesting classes while you are there.
- On weekend trips, bring a small, rolling suitcase. You won’t need as much as you think.
- Never put your bag down. Keep it across your body (and don’t leave it at a juice place in the airport like I did). Always keep your valuables in the same place, and stay organized.
- It’s normal to miss a flight or a train. (Sometimes timing doesn’t work out and you miss your train from Milan to Venice, and you have to spend a night in Milan. Hey, life could be worse, right?) Know things aren’t always in your control; figure out a way to get to where you need to go despite conditions.
- Keep some type of journal. A journal, a blog, or any kind of notes will be wonderful to look back on. I blogged. That served as a way to update my family. Each weekend I’d make notes of where we went, restaurants we ate at, and anything I wanted to include in my blog. Writing is a fun way to relive each week. I had never before kept a journal. I’m so glad I did.
- Always print out flight info. You never know if an airline is going to say they don’t have your booking, or if they need info from you that is only in the flight booking info. Better safe than sorry.
- Buy tickets in advance (known as “Skip the line” tickets) and read up on when places close, so you don’t miss out.
- Join a gym. Exercise is always important. When you travel you will eat foods you would not typically eat, including possibly more unhealthy food than you usually do, which makes working out even more important.
What are some life experiences you’ve had with life lessons you can share? Please join the conversation with your comments…