You’re about to study abroad, and you’re going through all the fascinating pictures of the country you’ll soon be studying. Before you know it you’re at the airport ready to disembark. Study abroad offers a lot of great opportunities. One moment you’re in the classroom being filled with knowledge, and the next moment you’re in a completely different world undergoing life-changing experiences. These experiences can be good, but they can turn sour if not appropriately equipped.
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- Don’t be too LOUD
As Americans, we are very prone to speaking loudly. We live in a place where you need to speak up to be heard. However, there are times where we are too loud. Having a fun night out doesn’t mean that you need to scream, “NIGHT OUT!” A lot of cultures look down on people who walk through the centre of town making a scene. The best way to go through this scenario is to go out with some local friends you make, and learn from what they do. By making local friends you’ll not only have people can help you adapt to culture, but you’ll also have someone who will be able to back you up if you get into any situations while abroad. These friends will also stop you from getting on a 4 hour train in Italy while playing music on your phone, and completely trashing the Italian culture. So squad up.
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- Partying is completely different
Party life in college is a thing. Everyone knows it. Drinking is also a thing, especially in foreign countries where the legal drinking age is a lot lower than 21. In countries like England the legal drinking age is 18, but kids can drink at the age of 16 as long as they’re being eating. European countries have open container laws, as well. Open container laws allow people to have alcohol in public, which has been known to have issues with students. Americans are used to fraternity parties, and parties where they can get drunk and be obnoxious. Other cultures aren’t the same. For example, French culture drinks wine from a young age, but learn that drinking doesn’t require you to get drunk. Sometimes drinking in other countries is a social occasion, and getting drunk in a social event won’t do you much good. Please drink responsibly.
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- English expectations
In our schools, we are taught that the most common language in the world is English. As Americans, we don’t learn other languages all that proficiently. Some students go to other countries without knowing a single word in their language. Although it is true that a lot of people in other countries speak English, and want to talk to native English speakers to improve their English, there are also people who don’t speak any English, and some cities where people don’t speak English when you travel away from your university. The best thing to do in this situation is to take a handheld dictionary, or download an app onto your phone like Google Translate. Although these resources are crude in the sense that they aren’t always accurate, they’re more helpful than you would imagine. Learn the basics.
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- Slow down
Americans who go to other countries, in particular European countries want to see a lot. There are so many countries near you, and it’s cheap to get from one place to another. Thus, Americans speed through towns snapping pictures of literally everything that looks remotely significant. This doesn’t always need to be the case. If you’re going to a new place the best thing to do is show up with a plan. Plans are great, because they allow you to have a tick off scheme, where you can tick off things you see and prioritize the places or things you want to see most. Just because you’re only there for 8 hours doesn’t mean you can’t see The Louvre, Arc De Triomphe, and Eiffel Tower on the same day. Paris is big, but having a plan will allow you to manage your time more efficiently with metro plans, taxi costs, café locations, and a common understanding of how long it takes at each place. Planning ahead allows you to see more.
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- Uncultured to Cultured
Unfortunately this is the biggest issue. Americans struggle with the concept of respecting other cultures. Movies have documented this from EuroTrip to Hangover 2. Americans show up to countries and act completely American. Although there is nothing wrong with remaining American, you do need to adapt to cultures. This involves doing research on the cultures you’ll be going to. The best way to go about making sure you understand the culture is by either reading travel books, like Lonely Planet or Rick Steves, or by stopping by the Advising Center on campus in Bradley Hall 315. We have Education Abroad Peer Ambassadors who have been all over the world and have experienced cultures. EAPAs are able to give tips and tricks. If you’re already abroad feel free to email firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s best to have fun while respecting other cultures. So study up.
Connor Bechtol studies Management and Marketing at the University of Kentucky, and he just returned from studying for the full academic year at Oxford Brookes University.