Unplug for a healthier, happier life and study abroad, too!

 (that’s what I’m talking about! Photo by: legacy.pitchengine.com)

We live in a super connected world. It seems like everyone of all ages is always on a device. The internet, texting, email, … are great tools but it’s really important to take a break from it once in while to just enjoy life. Studying abroad is one of those unique opportunities where you should unplug from your connected life to really experience the local culture. If you’re constantly connected to your device, how can you enjoy the sound of a French police car (it’s very different from American police), or the smell of fresh bread being put out as you walk down the street, or the sight of the sun coming up over the Louvre? The answer is you can’t! Paris and many other host cities have been around for close to a thousand years! I always like to imagine how visitors 600 years ago would visit the host city and I can tell you they didn’t have cell phones or iPads.

offline(photo by: www.scoopwhoop.com)

I’m not saying to not carry your phone with you, rather, just to put it on silent and enjoy the experience of studying abroad or really life. You’ll find yourself healthier and happier if you do. Have a great unplugged weekend and à lundi!

Group of university students sitting on steps

20 things you don’t appreciate about being 20 until you’re out of college

(photo of 20 year old students by www.redhotpepperspray.com)

As I edge closer and closer to 30 (don’t worry I still have a couple of years), I can’t help but think back to the glory days of being 20 (in Paris, in the USA, and everywhere in between). Here’s 20 reasons why it’s great to be 20 years old:

1-     The ability to bounce back: Stayed up late studying for finals? Do a hard workout at the gym? These are things that at 20 you bounce back from like a rubber band feeling energized and ready to go despite the fact that your brain is tired and every muscle in your body is sore. After 20, the bounce back rate can be up to a few days long- bummer.

2-     Nothing to lose: Taking risks is something you’ll have to face the rest of your life but when you’re 20, you have nothing to lose- no kids or spouse, no mortgage, no full time job- so it’s easier to take bigger risks career wise, financial,…. The only risk never worth taking is when it comes to your safety.

3-     Living on less: After 25, you start to get pickier about where you live (probably because you’re spending more time and more money on your home). But at 20, what does it matter if you live in shoebox size apartment with 5 other roommates? It’s a great time to really hone your people skills and take on more risks. When you’re not picky about where you need to live (or how you’ll have to bunk up with others) for that dream internship in Paris or NYC, those opportunities can become realities more quickly and easily.

4-     Having the rest of your 20s ahead of you: At 20, you realize you have the next 9 years to be in your twenties and accomplish your goals…then you realize your 25 and only have 4 more years left and so on and so on until you’re in your late 20s staring at 30 years old ‘round the corner and wondering what you did for the first half of the decade.

5-     Having no money: When you graduate college, every decision you make will revolve around money and you’re ever growing need for it. The longer you’re out of school the more your need for money grows as your responsibilities grow (thinking buying a house, having a family and starting your retirement fund). College is the one time in life that you really don’t need money. Ok, so everyone needs money but it isn’t yet a driving force in your life.

empty wallet(photo by: rodale.typepad.com)

6-     Having student loans but not having to pay them back yet: Every college student knows about student loans but it’s this thing that you do every semester at registration time. The gravity of tens of thousands of dollars you’ll have to pay doesn’t really hit you until your 22 and looking at your first student loan bill.

7-     Being able to create your own class schedule: Most 20 year old college students have more command of their life-school balance than any full-time working person. Why? Because you say at what time you’re having that first class on Monday morning. No job will give you that kind of freedom to create a schedule that works best for you so enjoy it while you can as the 9-5 grindstone awaits you.

8-     Sleeping in past 7am Monday-Friday: I know the expression is “9 -5” but the truth is most jobs are more like a 7am -4pm. College is the only time where you don’t have to wake up before 7am if you make your class schedule just right. Enjoy the extra sleep now in the morning because it won’t be there at 22.

9-     Having energy: Remember that working 7am-4pm gig? You’ll find that it’s easy to be in a constant zombie state when you’re waking up at 5:30am – 5 days a week to make yourself presentable for work and then start a 30 minute or more commute. But the real kicker is not being able to sleep past 8am on the weekends as your body thinks that 8am is now sleeping in.

10-  Dreaming big: At 20 most of us don’t follow the news or have dealings with the typical chain of command of life so it’s easy to dream big without getting caught up in the specifics which can create obstacles to reaching your goals.

11-  Making friends easy: Have you ever made a best friend within your first few weeks of class? Most American campuses are filled with people who are the same age and have a similar lifestyle. Fast forward a few years to when you’re working full time, living in a new city where you don’t know anyone and you’re the youngest person at your office who is also the only single person with no kids. Making friends at 20 who are similar in age and lifestyle (not married, no kids) is a breeze- enjoy the ease of friendships while you can.

12-  Enjoying your time off: Who doesn’t look forward to crashing after each semester? A semester’s end is time for much needed R&R, catching up with friends and enjoying your time off. After college, enjoying your time off often means fixing things around the house, spending time with your spouse/children or doing those important but super boring adult things that you’ve been putting off. At 20, having time off is exactly that but you don’t realize it until it’s gone.

time off(photo by: www.biskd.com)

13-  Depending on your parents: Your parents will never tell you this but they like that you depend on them- it makes them feel important in your life and needed. When you graduate college and move out, you’ll depend less and less on Mom and Dad and they’ll miss taking care of you. Don’t take advantage of your folks but it’s ok to be dependent on your parents at 20.

14-  Studying abroad: Unless you have a higher management or technical position with a large international company, chances are you won’t get the opportunity to live abroad. So take that chance at 20!

15-  Not having a serious relationship: The 2nd half of your twenties, you may start to settle down by getting married and having a family. This is a decision to last the rest of your life! So enjoy being single and young and focusing on your needs. You’ll have the greater part of your life having a relationship so no need to spend all your time and energy on one at 20.

16-  Hobbies/cultivating talents: Remember that energy thing? (Hint- it’s #9). 20 is the time to explore all hobbies/ cultivate talents – you have the energy, your schedule is more flexible, no family or house to take care of, no full time job taking up most of your time and it’s a great way to enjoy your time off. You never know if you’re hobby could be that big career risk that could take you to the next level.

17-  You can be selfish!: I mean that in the most positive of ways. What’s great about being 20 is that you only have to worry about your needs and desires and not about your family. Being “selfish” and worrying only about you will help to form you into the person that you’ll be for the majority of your life. So go ahead- be selfish and find out what’s best for you!

18-  Not having to think about the future : When you’re 20, retirement seems like something only really old people do. But then you graduate college and you realize that 20 quickly becomes 25 than 30, etc… and you see that the sooner you can save for retirement, the better.

19-  Optimism: When I was 20, I wasn’t concerned with things like ISIS, the budget crisis or America’s borders as my biggest concern was whether I was going to pass that sociology mid-term. I had a general optimism about the world. Getting more involved with what’s going on in your state, country, and world is great but you lose the rose colored glasses effect. Kudos if you’re involved in that stuff at 20 but it’s ok to take a break once in a while and see la vie en rose.

through-rose-colored-glasses-1(photo by: theworldthrurose.blogspot.com)

20-  Being beautiful (without trying): 20 is a great age for beauty. You’ve lost the baby-ness quality to your face but yet still somehow manage to look young. Your skin is also at its peak with no lines, wrinkles or spots. Enjoy being naturally beautifully and the young but mature phase of your face- it doesn’t last long.

Being 20 is a great age but don’t think the future is all doom and gloom – in fact it gets better! Stay tuned for the follow up post, “20 things I don’t miss about being 20” next week. In the meantime, enjoy being 20 in wherever you find yourself this semester.

Eiffel Tower

Guest Posts and How to Jump out of a Parisian Building Safely

It’s been a busy past few days as I put the finishing touches on guest posts for GoAbroad.com and Web 2 Present (they’ll be coming out soon!). I don’t have a post today but saw this article on a new device to help people safely jump out of buildings when there is a fire that is blocking all normal fire exits. I’ve written about Fire Safety in Paris and how there are no fire escapes in your Parisian homestay but this is a new way to stay safe. Check it out below and be back tomorrow! (click on the image to watch the YouTube video)



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The most obvious challenge of studying abroad… and how to overcome it

A guest blog by Dr. Lital Helman  from GradTrain

Studying abroad is a wonderful experience. You meet international friends, expand your professional network, improve your language skills, and often times – have a superb education which may have not been possible in your home country.

The awesomeness of the study abroad experience does not mean that it is always easy. The most obvious challenge for people who study abroad is the language problem. I’m not talking only about the practical issue of figuring out traffic signs. I am talking about something deeper. Most international students are proficient in their own language, and typically have a very good ability to express themselves in their own language. Facing a situation where you cannot say exactly what you want, where you don’t sound sharp or funny, or where you don’t get the joke, is very frustrating and can chew into your self-confidence.

Everybody goes through this. Everybody. Even that beautiful girl that you think is taking it all easy – she’s also having her tough moments as an international student. I know this not only because I went through some of it this myself, but also because at GradTrain we build on the cumulative experience of many people who went through this process; Great, smart, wonderful people, who are suddenly out of their natural environment. And it gets tough sometimes.

gt1(photo by GradTrain)

The good news is that we also have ideas from GradTrain users and coaches on how to overcome those hurdles. Here are a few ideas that worked for different personality types and for people from different cultures. Hope some of it can work for you too!

A. Self-humor. Self-humor is a great way to break the ice and create positive social interactions out of awkward moments. One of our GradTrain coaches says that he used to burst out laughing every time he had made an embarrassing mistake. It made the people around him take him as an easy going, comfortable person to talk to. Another GradTrain coach, a biologist from Central Europe, wrote a full essay in English where she replaced the word “as” with, ahem… well – with the word “ass”. You know. A small mistake, right? She made such a joke out of her own mistake which helped everyone around her see it as a ‘no-big-deal’. People valued her attitude and it has not at all diminished her value in their eyes.

B. Understand that no-one expects you to be perfect. I know. You have such a high standard of yourself that you just cannot see yourself from the outside and understand that most people simply do not care. They do not expect foreigners to have great English or French or German, they do not expect you to behave as if you have been there for ever and ever. Who wants to have perfect people around them anyway? Relax and embrace it that you are different, you will make mistakes and this is OK. One of our coaches at GradTrain, an Israeli Law student, explained: I was very conscious of my accent. My English was not bad at all, but I knew that whenever I said something, people would think “where is she from” before they think “what does she have to say”. At some point I decided that I am going to acknowledge my accent and not be embarrassed anytime someone mentioned it. At some point, people started to say that my accent is “charming”, and “exotic”. Someone even said that he wished he had my accent because it “makes me stand out”. I admit that it never really stopped bothering me, but it’s so true that with the right attitude what you see as drawback can become an advantage.

C. Listen rather than talk. Most people think that they need to say interesting things in order to be interesting to their surroundings. That’s actually not true. People like the presence of people who listen well much more than that of people who talk all the time. A GradTrain coach from South America explained, “It made me quite a few friends, this annoying fact that I could not speak very well. I gravitated more to 1:1 conversations, because it was easier for me to understand what was going on language-wise. But even in a 1×1 world I felt awkward. I did not know what to say that would be appropriate and relevant. I resorted to listening. I asked questions. The person answered. I asked a new question. This worked. People thought I was the most awesome foreigner they’ve met, because the discussion obviously surrounded around things they were interested in, and with time I also learnt the language better and felt more comfortable contributing to the conversation.”

D. Offer language for language sessions. This is really cool. You can offer to teach Chinese, English, Spanish or German to the local students at your university, in return for French 1×1 classes or for something else. You can also organize a project like that in your class so that all foreigners would offer language sessions. One LLM class at Penn Law (LLMs is Masters in Law, usually designed for foreigners) offered language lessons to the domestic law students. This worked out really well. “I think people are generally uncomfortable in inequitable situations, says Jacob Bacon, a former UN advisor and GradTrain’s CEO. “When you get to sit 1:1 with people and can teach them your language in return for practicing theirs, it helps make the relationships more equitable and comfortable for both sides.”

E. Find international friends. This point is often times under-emphasized. But in this global world, you are never the only foreigner around. You are not even the only foreign person in the university. Look around. Find friends who are also foreigners – but not only people from your own country. It really helps. Foreign people speak more slowly, less unfamiliar slang, but still speak the only common language you all have.


(photo by  http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a7/East_Asian_friends.jpg)

F. Don’t go through it alone! You are not likely to be the first person from your country who has ever studied in this university. We really believe in the power of the community to help each other and learn from the cumulative experience of each other. It’s really inspiring to get help from someone who is just like you who went through this process successfully. Then, when you finally make the journey and are studying abroad, it is really empowering to “coach” other people from your country to overcome the same challenges you already went through. Nothing gives you a sense of the progress that you have made more than helping others get to where you are. You can do it on GradTrain or find another way to position yourself to mentor others. The value you gain out of it is great. In short, the challenges of the study abroad adventure, even though they are likely to stay with you throughout your time abroad – they will not break you. There is still a lot you can do to make your experience so much better!

Thanks Dr. Helman!


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Lital Helman

Dr. Lital Helman is GradTrain’s VP. GradTrain connects people who want to study abroad for online video coaching meetings with people from a similar background who have gone through this process successfully, to get the most out of the study abroad experience.