Tag Archives: europe

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Being Aware

 (featured photo by www.luceschimney.com)

Reading Andrea’s recent post on staying safe while traveling, it reminded me of the biggest safety lesson I’ve learned while living abroad: being aware of your surroundings. This seems extremely obvious, and I’ve been fortunate enough to avoid trouble, but both observant and clueless people can slip up, which can be dangerous.

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(Watch out for your belongings! Photo by holidaybuzzed.com)

For one thing, no matter where you go in a country that “doesn’t speak English,” keep in mind that you have no idea who actually speaks English around you, so don’t think you can gossip about someone smelly in front of you and assume they won’t understand. In a story I’ll recount next, I made the mistake of telling a joke about an attack on random people while walking behind some French-speaking people and they consequently started walking faster because they assumed the wrong thing. Don’t let your personal conversation get you into trouble, especially because English is so commonly spoken these days!

My funniest story is the encounter my friends and I had with some drug dealers. We were trying to find the meeting place for a couchsurfing group, but we didn’t know the area and were walking around in circles for awhile. My brave friend decided to ask a young man sitting on a motorcycle if he knew the place, but he basically completely ignored us. We were a bit shocked at that, but after crossing the street and us being yelled down by cops, we quickly realized he was waiting to finish a deal and we accidentally got him busted. But somehow, the other dealers who witnessed the exchange thought we were really trying to buy, so when we kept walking, they tried approaching us. My “brave” friend somehow thought it wouldn’t be a problem to strike up a normal conversation with one of them, which meant that in a three block radius, we had at least a half dozen dealers vaguely circling us, thinking we were good customers. It was at this point when we started walking closely behind a random couple to help distance ourselves and I made my untimely joke. Needless to say, we decided the meeting wasn’t worth it anymore, no matter how calm those guys were.

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(Unfortunately, not every area announces the dangers- look it up before you go there! Photo by looksmartbesmart.blogspot.com)

And going back to Andrea’s 8th point about knowing where dangerous areas are, it would have helped us a lot to have known that the area was dangerous beforehand, so that’s definitely a valid point. Now I know the two neighborhoods where the drug dealers and prostitutes gather in my city, so I know to not walk there at night. Otherwise, I’m happy to report that Geneva is extremely safe. Actually, I had one local friend laugh at me when I recounted the drug dealers story, because apparently they are safe and harmless, too.

With a combination of smarts and luck, I’ve avoided any problems, but that doesn’t mean I can let my guard down, no matter how long I live in this city. So, above all, my biggest advice is to simply always stay on your toes.

  

Chelsea Fairless

Chelsea is a home-bred Texan currently living in Geneva, Switzerland and studying French at the University of Geneva, while living and working with a family as a part-time nanny. She has been living in the Geneva area since August 2012. You can follow more of her story on her blog http://parolepassport.blogspot.com/ and other social media sites.

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3 Signs You’re Studying Abroad for the Wrong Reasons

(featured photo by: thebuildnetwork.com)

Studying abroad is a serious decision and one that should not be taken lightly. Sometimes students choose to study abroad when they shouldn’t. Let’s look at 3 signs that you’re studying abroad for the wrong reasons.

1) Doesn’t benefit your major: The main goal of studying abroad is to, well, study! If your major’s core course requirements are not going to be fulfilled or even enhanced by takes classes overseas, don’t do it! I have met and read blogs of students who are taking general elective classes overseas because the program they chose does not offer classes for their major. This is a costly mistake. Studying abroad is a lot of time, money and effort- just like the general college experience. If going abroad will not help you fulfill or even finish your major’s course requirements, you will have to take those classes when you return. This means more time in college which means more money. Why prolong your college graduation and have more student loan debt than necessary if you’re not going to ever see the benefits?

 

Bottom line- Andrea recommends to study abroad only if it will help you finish or enhance you’re major and ultimate career goals.

Backpacking in Europe

(photo by: flyerizer.com)

2) You want to travel: The desire to travel and experience new ways of life is a great thing. Just not to the tune of the cost of college tuition + traveling expenses. One of the main selling points of study abroad is that you’ll get to travel often. This is true only if you budget for travel along with your monthly living expenses. Even with student discounts, traveling abroad can add up pretty quickly. It is also time consuming. As a full time student, you will get breaks, holidays and possible 3 day weekends if you choose your class schedule wisely but traveling often will still be difficult to coordinate. I would encourage you to travel as much as possible while abroad but don’t forget that studying abroad does not equal vacation time. You are there to study and immerse yourself into a new culture. Travel is an option (again, if you budgeted for it) but you will not be spending most of your time traveling. Most of your time will be spent in class not backpacking across the continent.

 

Bottom line: Travel should not be a main motivator for wanting to study abroad. The majority of your time will be spent in class in the host country. If you want to travel often, make sure you set your class schedule and have a separate budget to accommodate for this.

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(photo by: tvrage.com)

3) You want to make the most of your 20s: A few weeks ago, guest blogger R.C. O’Leary shared his regret of never studying abroad. Although I completely understand his sentiment, it’s important to not study abroad simply to fulfill a milestone for your twenties. Yes, studying abroad is a unique opportunity and it’s great in your twenties because you’re not married, have no kids and no bills. However, going just for the hell of going is an expensive milestone. If you don’t study abroad, that doesn’t mean that you can’t go abroad. Save your pennies and go on vacation abroad for a month or the summer with some friends or family. A month or summer abroad for vacation costs exactly the same as it would for a study abroad without the college tuition. This extended vacation will give you the taste for life overseas and allow you to practice foreign language skills as well as immerse into a culture without the added bonus of classes.

 

Bottom line: Don’t go just because you think future you will regret not going. There are other opportunities to go abroad and experience a new way of life. You just have to make it happen.

 

College is an investment in your future. Studying abroad is another (albeit unique) slice of the investment pie. When deciding to study abroad, you must really find out why you want to do this experience because going for the wrong reasons will be costly.

  
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Europe: An American’s Cultural False Friend

Do you remember the lesson on false friends in English class? No, I’m not referring to the shady classmates who were pretending to be your friend but who really weren’t. False friends are words that look similar but have a different meaning. I also like to extend this terminology when comparing European and American culture. A quick glance at any American study abroad program shows that American students prefer to study abroad in western countries, aka Europe, just by the sheer volume of programs established in Europe by American universities. This is not to say that Europe doesn’t have great schools or great programs. They do. But so do many other non-European countries. So why is the demand so high to study abroad in Europe? I suspect because it is the belief that Europe and the United States share a similar way of living, students would have an easier adjustment. This is true – to a degree. Europe and the USA do share a scientific, political, historical, linguistic and cultural lineage. And certainly we are very politically and monetarily intertwined with our European brethren. However there are grand differences between the 2 continents.

Europe is a false friend in terms of culture because although the USA shares many similar traits, there are so many differences. These similar traits lured me into a false sense of security and belief that I did not have to prepare much for the differences as I could expect a very similar way of life. This false friend caught me off guard when I came into contact with things like strikes; French bureaucracy; the uncanny French ability to disagree with almost everything; the general union worker mentality; the inability to go against the grain; independent decisions discouraged in businesses; the customer is NOT in the right (try making a commotion at a French store when you are not pleased and see what doesn’t happen); the different relationship with government; the list does go on and on. These things are all in contrast to the American way of: money/business comes first before everything; the can-do attitude; live to work; the customer is ALWAYS right; workers being able to make autonomous decisions; unions mostly looked down upon; free market; independent spirit; no one is responsible for you but you. I am not here to assert that one way is better over the other. Merely, that they are different and that culture shock is real for American students who study in Europe. When choosing a study abroad program, make sure it is because it will have a beneficial impact on your major/career needs and goals and not because the culture resembles your own. You never know when you may encounter a false friend.

 

 

  
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Study Abroad Interview with The Abroad Guide Founder on Her Experiences Abroad

Recently, I had the pleasure to interview study abroad tour de force and social media mogul, Jessica Dante, founder of The Abroad Guide about her experiences studying, living and dating abroad. Let’s find out what she had to say.

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(that’s Jess in Italy)

AB: Hi Jessica. Tell us a little bit about yourself.

JD: I studied Marketing at James Madison University in Virginia. I knew I wanted to study abroad before I even started college, and I ended up in Belgium because I was able to complete my first semester in the college of business there. I’m so glad I chose that program because Belgium is underrated!

AB: How did you prepare for studying abroad (the process of obtaining a visa, the experience of living abroad and being in a new school)? Did you find that your preparations were helpful in having realistic expectations of the study abroad experience?

JD: I didn’t require a visa for my study abroad experience, but to prepare I asked all of my older friends who had studied abroad in Europe for any advice they could give me. They were so helpful and sent pages of information and advice. I don’t think you can ever be completely prepared for study abroad– but that’s the fun of it!

AB: Did you experience the “study abroad blues” (the down moments during the transition process) and if so, how did you overcome those moments?

JD: I didn’t really– I’m not much of a homebody and I was having so much fun that I barely was homesick. In the first few weeks that I was abroad, I broke up with my boyfriend at the time who was still back at home, which was a bit tough, but after that I realized that the world really was my oyster and I had a fresh new perspective.

AB: How long did it take you to feel comfortable enough in your home country for you to start thinking of it as home?

JD: Honestly, only a couple of weeks. I had great people around me that I became close with really fast, and we explored Antwerp as much as we could so it became home quickly.

AB: Tell us a story about a funny cultural/linguistic misunderstanding you had while studying abroad and what did you learn from it?

JD: This was kind of funny– one night at the student bar, one of the other international students bluntly told me and my group of friends that he thinks Americans are all fat. But hey, relatively speaking, he was kind of right!

AB: Can you give us any advice on what it’s like to date someone from another country?

JD: It’s really fun actually! I love learning about new cultures and being different from other people, so learning about my now-husband’s cultural differences was (and still is) really interesting!

AB: Did you work while you were studying abroad? If so, can you tell us a little more about that (how many hours should students expect to work, rough pay- is there a minimum wage?, how soon should students start looking for a job- can this be too much during the transition process? , did you have to pay taxes as a foreign student?…)

JD: I didn’t work when I studied abroad. I don’t recommend for students to in fact, unless it’s just a few hours a week. I think it cuts into your fun and exploration time (as well as your study time) so just enjoy the fact that you have an excuse to not work for a few months!

AB:Did you travel (inside and/or outside the host country) while studying abroad? Can you give us some pointers on how to travel on a budget?

JD: Oh my god we traveled SO MUCH! I think we did 13 countries in three months? My advice on traveling on the cheap while abroad is to use Skyscanner to find the super cheapo flights (like Ryanair and EasyJet ones). Also, if you plan on traveling in a big group (20 or so people) look into charter bus options– whether it be just to the airport or all the way to your destination. This could save you a ton of money and city-to-city service is pretty sweet.

AB: What’s your secret to making friends abroad and in a new college?

JD:Find out where you can participate in your hobbies, whether it be by joining a sports team, signing up for a cooking class– whatever. You can meet people with the same interests as you and you can get out of the “American study abroad student bubble”.

AB: Tell us one way in which studying abroad made you the person you are today?

JD: It showed me that a life filled with travel is the only life that I could see for myself. After my study abroad semester, I lived in NYC for a summer, I went to Nicaragua on an alternative spring break trip, and then moved to Italy for a year. And now that I live in London and work for a travel company, I know that traveling will never NOT be a part of my life!

Jessica’s story is one of inspiration. Her embrace of and zest for new adventures and travels laid the foundation for a smooth transition and quick immersion in her study abroad and living abroad experiences. For more information about the study abroad experience, check out theabroadguide.com

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Bio:

Jessica Dante realized that she was born to travel while studying abroad in Belgium during her junior year of college. Her travel experiences since then include volunteering in Nicaragua, backpacking through Europe, and a year-long adventure in Italy. In addition to being social media specialist, she is the creator of The Abroad Guide, a blog that helps American students make the most of their study abroad experience.