Alexa’s Study Abroad Journal: Bits And Pieces

(photo by Alexa: Washington Square Arch is basically an infant compared to the Arc de Triomphe. I can’t wait to see some of the most beautiful architecture in the world on a daily basis.)

I try to practice my French every day, but I lack discipline. It’s summer, I have a job, and I do a lot of outdoorsy-type things. It’s hard to think of the French word for “leaf” when I’m hiking to a new bouldering area with my fave Americans. As an aspiring journalist, though, I try to at least keep up with French news. So I thought I’d break the first rule of journalism and share my sources.

I’m about to take creative liberties by organizing my thoughts into a listicle, because it’s edgy and I’m busy.

1. This ( is a two-and-a-half minute clip from the New York Times’ “Intersection” series. It’s a quick intro to Parisian fashion trends. Interviewees from Le Marais — the historic-turned-trendy quarter — talk about “frou-frou” and “bobo chic” (bohemian bourgeois). I’m so stressed about what to pack, but knowing that I can’t go wrong with traditional, classy styles makes me feel better. (How cool is that dude’s watch, though??)

2. I’ve been emailing back and forth with Tim, my future co-habitant, about rock climbing. We’re sharing stories and videos, and I’m trying to refrain from using Google Translate too much. Here’s a YouTube ( video of a few crazy Lyon climbers just doin’ their thing right in the middle of the city. Scaling a bridge? NBD.

3. Rookie is my favorite online publication for teen girls. Not a teen girl? Doesn’t matter. I find some of my new favorite songs from their Friday Playlists, and this ( one, “Les Filles Qui Chantent,” basically rules. Listen up: France sounded better in the 60s.

4. I’m not really a fan of Buzzfeed (I say as I write in listicle-format) or Cosmo or ThoughtCatalog or Gawker or anything, but when I read trashy news in French, it’s a different story. Honestly, sometimes Cosmo France is easier to read than Le Petit Prince. AND it is pretty entertaining to see English hashtags introducing photos of macaroons (,macarons-chats-lenotre-badou-badou-elodie-martin,1901328.asp) shaped like cat faces. I feel way prouder of myself for reading about my guilty pleasures en francais, you know?

5. The best for last: I found the most adorable little infographic on how to ( pack a suitcase. Whew!

When I’m not looking to French-ify my life, I’m getting my visa documents prepared. I have EVERYTHING, and tomorrow I will make one hundred copies of each one, and the next day I will put on my poker face as I hand them over to an indifferent consulate worker.

“Everything” includes my acceptance letter, two emails from Campus France, a recent photograph in passport format, my passport, proof of sufficient means of support, my airline ticket reservation, my license, the OFII (French immigration form), a long-stay visa application form, and a processing fee! Oh, I love French bureaucracy already. So, so much love. Drowning in love.



Alexa Wybraniec

Alexa studies journalism, media and French at Rutgers University. She is abroad at Sciences Po for her third year of college. Check back every other Monday for a new post and connect on Twitter.


C’est samedi

(Wish I was there right now- photo by

Saturday’s here as well the first day of the Twenty in Paris sale- woohoo! This weekend I am mixing work and pleasure. I have lots to work for Twenty in Paris like an up coming post for I can’t release much about it but I can tell you that it is about a very important day in French history, more posts for this blog, editing the 2nd installment of the How to Pack for Studying Abroad YouTube Series and a new tumblr campaign that will offer fun and useful French language/culture tips as well as answer your study abroad questions. What am I doing for pleasure is scrapbooking! It is a lot of work but it’s very enjoyable and relaxing (to me at least). Studying abroad is what actually got me hooked on scrapbooking. There were so many unique things like the metro passes, school IDs and immigration papers that were too neat to throw away so I decided that when I returned home I would scrapbook them and I’ve been doing it ever since. Don’t throw away any of the things you come across while studying abroad- even if you don’t become an avid scrapbooker, just putting them in a folder or binder is good enough. You never know when you’ll want to do a walk down memory lane and look at the “artifacts” from the time you were Twenty [years old] in Paris.

(Here’s my work station this morning- juggling eating breakfast, working on my laptop and menu planning for the dreaded trip to the grocery store today)

working(btw- loving my summery, Moroccan print table cloth)


Does Preparation Get Rid of the Challenges of Study Abroad Experience?

(photo by:

A few weeks ago, I met a former study abroad student. I love connecting with study abroad students at all stages (past, present and future) but whenever I meet someone who completed their study abroad, I can’t help regaling about the experience. Although we had many differences in our experiences – hers was for 1 semester in London, mine was a year in Paris- we both acknowledged that there were so many aspects of the cultural immersion experience that we were not prepared for but could’ve been. During our walk down memory lane, my new study abroad buddy made the most interesting comment. She questioned that had we had been prepared for the challenges that come with moving and integrating into a foreign culture, would the payoff of emotional growth and change have been as great?

This comment really got me thinking. I am the queen of preparation is the key to study abroad success, however, she had a point. I couldn’t help but wonder if there is something about the element of surprise that helps you to learn and grow more than if you knew the challenge was coming? Or what if you could anticipate certain situations but not all of them? Would you still be able to experience the challenge (necessary for learning and growth) without tail spinning into frustration if you knew of the obstacles that lie ahead?

To answer these questions, I started thinking of situations or professions which require you to be prepared yet still throw you into surprise situations. ***Please note the following is based off of general knowledge and not 1st hand experience. Service men/women, trauma doctors at a hospital and astronauts came to mind. These are people who are trained to handle practically every foreseen circumstance so that when something happens, they are not panicking or frustrated but rather can start an appropriate plan of action to resolve the situation. Does this mean that astronauts, service men/women and trauma doctors are never challenged or surprised? No! It just means that they don’t react the way that someone who had no clue what to expect or what to do would act. These professions show that being prepared for a situation doesn’t make it less challenging; it just means that you handle it better. Which leads me back to my never-ending mantra of preparation is the key to study abroad success.

(preparation is part of the job for astronauts)

astronaut(photo by:

I acknowledge that my personal and linguistic growth came because I had so many difficulties in my time abroad. I still had an overall great time but hold firm that knowing what to expect of Parisian life and cultural immersion would have been beneficial to helping me acclimate quicker to life abroad. I am reminded constantly that preparation can help make realistic expectations of the study abroad experience each time I see the search term “I regret study abroad” on the Twenty in Paris dashboard. This former student was spot-on when she said that you cannot be prepared for everything- that’s true. Even if you read every study abroad book and blog, there will still be something culturally and linguistically new. This is because culture and language are truly living things in a constant in a state of evolution.

But there are core things that you can be prepared for; the constants of the immersion and study abroad experience which do not change. For example -the experience of being on your own; the experience of dealing with a bad day or difficult situation alone; stepping outside of your comfort zone; speaking a foreign language every day and on a variety of topics; a new school environment; core cultural customs and attitudes that are different from your own; accepting and embracing new things/ideas/ food; the idea that you are the foreigner and do things differently and not everyone around you. These are the things for which you’ll want to (and can be) prepared. It is these areas of the immersion process into a new life abroad which will still be challenging (in a good way) even with preparation. Being prepared for an experience doesn’t remove the challenges; it simply gives you the foundation to build realistic expectations and the means to handle it better than if you weren’t prepared at all.



Tips on making a study abroad budget & using credit cards overseas

(photo by:

Money is the main issue that worries students when it comes to studying abroad. Do you have enough? How do you make it last for 5 months or more when you don’t have a job? Can you travel and see everything while on a tight budget? I had the pleasure of teaming up with Dani Alderman at to bring you the money answers you seek for your up-coming study abroad experience.

What is a budget and why is it important?

A budget is a plan for how much money you’re going to spend during a certain time period- usually per month. Creating and maintaining a budget is the backbone of the study abroad experience; it will tell you what you can and cannot do. It will make sure that you don’t go broke from studying abroad (which I almost did) as well as help you to not miss out on opportunities. Not only will a budget help you during your time abroad, but it will help you in your life after college, too.

The basics of making a budget 

Andrea’s tips

Your study abroad budget doesn’t start the moment your plane lands; it starts at home. Before you leave, you need to know what your money situation is. This will help you to know how much you can spend each month (example: you have $3,000 in your account and you’ll be abroad for 1 semester or 5 months. Divide the amount of money you have by the number of months to get your total monthly spending budget or 3,000 / 5 = 600. This means that you can spend up to $600 a month before your account is at $0.00).

The most important aspect about making a budget is that you record every purchase. Tracking your budget on a spreadsheet or app is great but not necessary for study abroad. A simple recording in your phone’s notepad feature or in a notebook will do. The most important part is to look at it and don’t forget to record every purchase immediately. It’s also a good idea to record how much you plan to spend each week for different categories – for example: eating out 75€, museums 30€, etc…. This will help to keep you right on track with your spending. If you find yourself spending more on that morning latte each week and less on going to museums, you’ll know where to tweak your spending to reach your goals.


(here’s an example of budget recording on your phone. photo by Andrea)



(budget apps are great but not always necessary; if you like to use one- make sure to change to local currency. Photo by:


Dani’s tips

When making a budget for travel, it’s important to account for unforeseen circumstances. Maybe your bus to the airport is late and you have to pay for a cab. You might get sick and have to pay for medication. No matter the circumstances, it’s best to be prepared with extra money in your account. This way you can avoid overdraft fees, or worse, being stranded penniless in a foreign city.

Tip on currency

Knowing the exchange rate in the country which you are traveling is key! In many European countries, you will lose U.S. dollars when you convert your currency. For example, if 1 U.S. Dollar equals .73 Euros, you lose about 37 cents per U.S. dollar. This is because with the current exchange rate, 1 Euro equals 1.36986 USD.

Andrea’s note- Don’t forget to convert your monthly spending budget into the local currency. For example, if you’re studying abroad in Europe, that $600 monthly budget is really 440€. You’ll want to keep the 440€ in mind as you track your monthly purchases.

American credit cards that can be used overseas and travel credit cards with simple rewards that will help students to gain rewards

When choosing the right credit card for your travels abroad, it is important to consider the travel, security, rewards and theft solutions that will be most beneficial for you. If you are traveling to Europe, it might be useful to apply for a credit card with EMV technology. Most cards in the United States are chip-and-signature cards. These cards are more secure than the magnetic stripe cards we use every day. You should also consider credit cards with $0 fraud liability, 0% foreign transaction fees, and travel insurance and assistances. Most U.S. credit cards have foreign transaction fees from 2-3%! These fees can add up quickly so it’s best to choose a card with no foreign fees!

Here are the top three best travel credit cards for students:

Here are the top three best travel credit cards for all travelers:

If you plan to use one of your existing credit cards, make sure you let your card issuer know every country you will be visiting so they don’t freeze your account. Don’t forget photo identification at all times! Europeans take fraud and identity theft very seriously!
A third option is to get a prepaid chip-enabled card. You get the security of chip technology, but prepaid card are not usually linked to your personal information, it’s a win-win! Prepaid chip-enabled cards benefit college students studying abroad because they can’t spend more than the loaded amount on the card.

Studying abroad doesn’t have to break the bank. Being familiar with your finances, keeping a budget and having the right credit card can help you to maximize your time abroad. Want to find out more? Check out CreditCard Insider. Did you find this post useful? Let me know by giving it a “bon” in the blue box if you liked or a stale baguette if it wasn’t helpful.


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