Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Study Abroad Series: 5. Life After Study Abroad

When you think study abroad, you think about pre-departure nerves and all of the adventures you will have while studying in the country of your dreams. But have you thought about what it will be like once you return home from your magical time abroad?
         I know I didn’t. I was only concerned about adapting to a foreign culture and country. A few weeks before the semester ended, I started getting extremely sad about the thought of leaving. But I still didn’t imagine what it would be like to be back home. And let me tell you, it was bad.
         Reverse culture shock is definitely a thing, as is feeling suddenly bored and depressed when you return back to your “normal” life. You go abroad, fall in love with another country, and then have to learn to readapt to your life back home. You’ve likely had a suspension of normal responsibilities during your time abroad, so returning back home is a slap in the face. The first time I studied abroad, I was ok in the summer but when I flew back down to school, the post-study abroad depression really sunk in. How did I deal with it? I studied abroad again…
         That’s not usually a viable solution for most people, and isn’t an option this time around for me either, so I have to start figuring out ways to be happy at home (and just look forward to the next time I can go abroad!). Here is how I’m combating reverse culture shock and how you can, too.
1. Figure Out What You Liked About Your Host Country…And Do It
         You’re missing your host country for a lot of reasons, and you’re not sure what they all are. Break it down and figure out what it was exactly that you loved so much, then recreate it. Sure, you might not be able to replicate the nightlife atmosphere or the busy city streets, but you can find ways to have similar experiences. Don’t expect to relive your study abroad at home, but find new spins on those cultural habits that you have come to love. For me, that would mean hosting my own dinner parties with pasta and wine late at night and loooong in duration, something I grew to love in Italy. Or, it would mean getting my friends together to drink and sing karaoke like we did in Korea. If you can figure out what you miss, then you can introduce it to your friends and experience a piece of it at home.
2. Buy A Cookbook
         Chances are, you grew to love some or all of the foods you ate in your host country. As a way to keep busy and fight off post-study abroad boredom, learn to make some of your favorites! Visit a used bookstore and pick up a cheap cookbook with cuisine from your host country. It will be fun to go to the store and pick up all the necessary ingredients, and even more fun to introduce your friends or family to the things you’ve been eating for months!
3. Make A Scrapbook
         It sounds a little Martha Stewart-y, but it’s a nice way to relive your travels. Printing out the photos, figuring out how to arrange them, then having an awesome keepsake is a nice way to be able to revisit your time abroad for years to come!
4. Travel At Home
         This one is possibly the most obvious and hardest to do. When you return home, you’re no longer constantly surrounded by foreign sights, sounds, and smells. But you can be. The Seattle area is more foreign to me than Florence, Italy because I never felt compelled to explore ‘home’. Look up places that serve weird food, go antique shopping, look up the best parks or hiking trails, find out if the area you live in have outdoor movies in the park in the summer, sign up for a cooking class, visit a museum! All the explorations you did abroad can be done where you live. You can even book a cheap flight one state over and stay in a hostel. Take a short road trip to the Largest Ball of Yarn (or whatever else) and take tons of hipster disposable camera photos. Just go out, explore, do it!
5. Be a Social Butterfly
         Missing your study abroad gets worse the more time you have to dwell on it. If you’re constantly surrounded by friends (or making new ones!), it takes your mind off of it. You can start planning your next travel experience, but in the meantime, enjoy being around others. I know I was much more social while abroad, and part of me missing it so much was that I wasn’t constantly surrounded by people when I went back home. If you don’t have many people to hang out with, make new friends! Join a club, watch your sports games at a bar, just be around people. It feels a lot nicer.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Study Abroad Series: 4. 10 Tips for Study Abroad Packing

For those of you about to study abroad, I've made a list of 10 important things to keep in mind before you jet off to Europe/Asia/Latin America/Australia/if you're going to Australia please record some men talking and send it to me drooooool. Some of these SEEM obvious, but read what I have to say because there are some small details in there that people tend to overlook (not just me, but my friends who have studied abroad as well!).
Any of you dream about studying abroad, about to study abroad, or already have?
Let me know in the comments!
1. Make Copies of Everything! (Extra copies of passport, visa, international health insurance, birth certificate if you're dealing with those needs like I had to, credit card in case it gets stolen, directions/phone numbers/contact information for arrival.) You'll likely be able to make copies of everything pretty easily later on, but it might cost more money/be out of your way/you may lose something along the way and need a copy immediately, so just be prepared.
This is much harder on cobblestone streets, so don't be this lady.
2. Don't Overpack. Such a typical piece of travel advice but it's true. First study abroad I took two checked pieces of luggage, second study abroad I took one and a carry on duffel bag. I had too much stuff both times. Only bring toiletries you can't get abroad or are expensive abroad (some countries don't really carry tampons and deodorant, peanut butter is expensive in Europe and Asia, etc.). Don't bring duplicates of shoes/clothing items. I thought I packed light and only wore 1/2 of the clothes I brought.
Sort of a random photo but I like, so I put
3. But Pack A Lot Of...Necessities. If you take birth control, vitamins, have prescription meds, get motion sick and need to take something during travel, have allergies, use special sensitivity toothpaste or face lotion, make sure you have enough to last the month, semester, year, summer, whatever. It took me a long while and a bit of a fight for my insurance to give me five months supply of birth control for my semester abroad. So make sure you have what you need and do it in plenty of time. Also, underwear. You can do spring break with two shirts and one pair of pants but you NEED 7 pairs of clean underwear. That's life, people.
4. Know the Climate. It sounds so simple but REALLY look at the typical climate/temperature of where you're going. I assumed Italy would be warm for spring semester and we only got to wear our summer clothes the last two weeks of study abroad. And we weren't prepared for the rain in Florence. AND I checked the climate before I left, I guess I just didn't believe it (Under The Tuscan Sun tricked me, dammit!).
Learn how to use the exchange rate boards if you don't already!
5. Exchange Rate. Look up the exchange rate. Memorize it. Live by it. 5 dollars, 5 euros, and 5 pounds are NOT THE SAME. They're not roughly the same. Especially when buying flights/tickets/while traveling, make sure you know if the ticket is in dollars, pounds, euros, won, yen, etc.
6. Phone. If you have a smart phone (I'm guessing most of my readers), and are taking it abroad, explore your options. International phone plans on your current carrier are probably not the best for longer term study abroads. They're costly. You can get your phone unlocked (different policies for different networks but it was so easy and quick to do through Verizon for my iPhone) and rent an international SIM card for whatever country you are studying in or a general European SIM. You can also rent phones/SIM cards once you get there. Pre- and post-paid options available. Many schools/programs also offer deals. Look into that.
These are much prettier than the ones I have!
7. Adapters/Converters. Easy to forget about, but buy adapters (adapt the plug so that the prongs fit into the right socket) and converters (converts the energy so that it can be used on different electrical currencies) as necessary. And don't forget to PACK THEM. I won't get into adapters vs. converters or what things need what (there is already informational overload online on those topics). Also, don't forget that if you're traveling while abroad, the other countries you are visiting may need different adapters. For example, Italy and England require different adapters.
8. Don't bring...School supplies (paper, folders, binders) that are the wrong size. They use A4 in Italy and Korea (and elsewhere), so my folders/binders/paper were all too small for the GIANT PAPER. You can bring some for personal use, but some of my professors only wanted the correct size paper (aka NOT the 8.5 x 11 paper I had). If you're going to school there, there WILL be a place to buy school supplies. Bring black pens if you want, they often require things to be written in pen (again, you can buy once there).
This is the luggage scale I have, about $10 with shipping in the US
9. Buy a Travel Scale. You can buy one on Amazon for less than $10, and it comes with a battery. It's really helpful when making sure your luggage is underweight while traveling abroad, and it will be important to avoid the hefty overweight fees on your international flight back home. If you are even one pound over, international flights can charge you an extra $100 to check your bag. Just invest the $10 or whatever it may be. It's worth the peace of mind and you can use it forever.
Victoria's Secret Stretch Hip Pack $29.50
10. Safety Items. The truth is, you will be a tourist while you're abroad. You will be a target for pickpocketing. If you're a girl, take a purse that zips AND latches shut, but also one big enough to fit your phone, water bottle, camera, Chapstick, or whatever else you might need for a full day out exploring. I know people who have had their purses zipped open and robbed without them even noticing. People also had phones stolen right from their hands (they did notice that one). This was in Florence, Italy. So buy a safe purse, definitely nothing that is open at the top. I found a lot of cheap options at Forever 21 and Nordstrom BP. Also consider buying an invisible fanny pack (a super thin one that goes under clothes and is hidden) for carrying cash, card, key, passport, ID, etc. It sounds stupid but once I took a girl I just met to the hospital and we only knew her first name and she saved herself by having an invisible fanny pack with all her information in it! Even Victoria's Secret has something similar, but much cheaper and thinner clasped versions can be found online.
There are my 10 tips for those who are gearing up to go abroad! If you have anything to add, leave a comment below so others can have even more good ideas of what to pack, leave behind, and prepare!

Thanks readers!