Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Things I've learned on study abroad

First off, here is the promised facebook link for the Cabo de Gata album.

I wasn't really planning on posting today, but I finished my final paper for economics earlier than expected, and I have some time to kill. Anyways, I wanted to do this last year but never got around to it, and it still seems pretty relevant now. Things I've learned from study abroad. This list is going to be in no particular order, and might not be complete. If I think of something else tomorrow, I'll post it.

1. Weather is fickle. This seems basic, even stupid. But you haven't been miserable until you've stood in freezing weather or rain without the proper gear. Always pack your sunglasses, umbrella, and layers. Even if you think you they're unnecessary, there's always that freak rainstorm or hot day.

2. How to read a map. In the age of technology, less and less people know how to read a map, unless it is accompanied by a digital voice telling you to take a right in 500 yards. I can't even count all the times I've been lost in random cities and have only gotten out of that mess because of a map. They are priceless.

3. How to communicate. Obviously, my Spanish has gotten way better here in Spain, but I've also been to countries where I don't speak the language, or speak very little. You'd be surprised how far a smile and body language can get you. In Morocco for example, we didn't speak Arabic, but we were able to more or less communicate and play with a little kid through hand gestures and smiles. In Italy, I used my knowledge of Spanish to figure out what Christina's host mom was saying (most of the time). This, however, doesn't mean you shouldn't attempt to learn at least a few phrases in the language. They can really help if you are lost, hungry, or just need something.

4. Just roll with it. Sometimes your flight is delayed, sometimes a bathroom will just have a hole in the floor, with foot platforms on either side. Sometimes, you find some tentacles in your paella. So what? Why complain. You're alive and probably happy, and have probably had enough to eat in the past 24 hours. Things will work out in the end...

5. Always have a back up plan... or at least an idea of what to do when #4 doesn't work out so well.

6. Drink water when it's available and pee when you can. Sometimes, you're on that flight and although you just drank a whole mini can of soda, they won't be coming around with seconds for at least an hour. Should have hydrated in the airport! Expensive? Bring a reusable water bottle, drink it before security, and then refill it on the other side. Bring drink mix if you don't like fountain water. I think the bathroom part is self explanatory.

7. You won't like everyone, and not everyone will like you. Don't hurt yourself trying to be popular. Life isn't about have millions of friends, it's about have a few friends that love you and making the most of what you've got. There's no point wasting energy trying to make nice with every person you meet. However, don't be a jerk. That's not cool either. Be nice to new people; you could make a new friend.

8. Public transport and how to use it. Like maps, I don't even know how often I've used metros, buses, trains, etc. I literally could not even guess. They are one of the most useful tools ever. Why would you take a $50 taxi from the airport, when you could take the metro for $4? Why walk 45 minutes with a suitcase when you can take a 10 minute train?

9. Don't try to convert currency in your head every time you make a purchase. In fact, try to use ATMs that are part of a network, so you don't get charged. With my Bank of America debit card I can use Barclay's, Deutsch Bank, PNB, and many more without any fees. When  you use the ATM is the only time it's acceptable to convert. Taking out 150 pounds is roughly $250. If you have $1000 to spend on vacation, just remember that it converts to 600 pounds, and make sure you don't go over that. Freaking over one purchase? Think about it in terms of your available (local) currency. If it's worth it to you, get it.

10. Bring medication, so long as it's not illegal. Allergies, motion sickness, stomach problems, and headaches suck big time when you have plans. Bring something that you know you won't react badly to, and use it.

11. Always charge your camera. You don't want to be the loser in the Harry Potter Studio Tour who runs out of battery after Hagrid's Hut (Guilty). This has now happened to me at least twice. Also make sure you bring the right memory card. 1 GB might be too small for a 5 day trip to Morocco...

12. When you're traveling, comfort trumps fashion. Don't try to look like Victoria Beckham on a 7 hour flight. You'll hurt, and people will think you are... well... a word I don't want my grandparents to see if they read this. If you are one of those people who dresses up for a flight like a contestant on ANTM at the final elimination, please go to youtube and search 'Jenna Marbles bitches at the airport' She's a little explicit, but I think you'll understand why everyone's been giving you dirty looks.

13. Good shoes are priceless. I've had friends practically have stress fractures after vacations. Don't do something stupid and only pack flats. At the very least, pack comfy walking sneakers or real sneakers. Yeah, you'll stand out in a crowd of Italians, but you'll also be able to walk tomorrow. If sneakers aren't your thing, make sure you've got comfy boots or other walking shoes.

14. If someone offers you a free breakfast, take it. Unless (and even sometimes when) this breakfast is literally bread and juice, do it. You will save so much money if you don't eat a full English in a fancy cafe everyday. On that note, do try a full english at some point.

15. Try something new, whether it's enticing (deep fried mars bars) or disturbing (Haggus). You probably won't regret doing it, and might find something you really love.

16. You don't need a ton of stuff. This semester, I was determined to come over with just one suitcase. As it turned out, I didn't (everything fit, but my contact solution put it over the weight limit), but I still only brought the same amount of stuff as I would have with only one suitcase. I don't really think I have to explain in depth on this one. You just need (on a basic level, let's not forget the things I've already said) some clothes, food, shelter, and a way to communicate with your family and friends.

17. Always carry a pen. Also bandaids are a good idea

18. Check expiration dates, on both food and documents, such as visas (cough cough Casey Thomas). You don't want to end up with food poisoning 2 days before a trip, or stuck at immigration because the date on your visa was wrong.

19. Wear a watch. At some point, your cell phone will die, or you will at least get sick of digging it out of your purse. A watch is right there on your wrist!

20. See what's around you. You might walk right by an amazing opportunity or something beautiful.

21. Follow your gut. Whether you need to find home or you feel like the situation is sketchy, listen to your instincts. You have them for a reason.

22. Old people are often way cooler than young people. They also generally know more.

23. Do what makes you happy. I don't mean shoot someone if it makes you happy. If you want to sit and listen to Parliament, go ahead. Run up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial? Be my guest. As long as you aren't hurting someone else or yourself, it's nearly always worth doing what you like.

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