OVIEDO, Spain — I’ve been abroad long enough that I may be able to legitimately advise others about it. Well, maybe not, but I’m going to do it anyway.
The Golden Rule: Find friends that are “keepers.” Early.
Face it, some of us had the same friends for the first 12 years of our lives, just to have to start over in college. And even then, some don’t make friends they’re happy with until their second or third years.
Good friends are hard to come by. This means it is essential to keep all eyes and ears open from the moment you step off that plane and meet your companions.
At first, it might seem that everyone will be lifelong friends, but then, the cliques begin forming. Just because we’re in college doesn’t mean we’re not still moody, insatiable post-teenagers who enjoy everything that is dramatic.
The friends you make abroad are the friends you’ll have to share experiences with. They’re the ones you’re going to travel with and – in cases like mine – the ones you’ll have to learn a culture and a language with. Without the company of someone at least bearable, your trip will not turn out nearly as positive as you planned.
Keep in touch, but not too much.
This one is important for those Internet-obsessed college kids. More often than not, you need to know everything – when this party is, whose birthday is coming up, what this episode will be about. So naturally, when you go abroad, your spare time is filled with the same things.
But, from thousands of miles away, reading about things on the Internet that you can’t take part in is a little more somber. So, my advice – don’t do it at all. It’s always tempting, but if you give in, it might ruin your night or even your week.
The chances that one of your friends will have a 21st birthday party while you’re gone are high – so are the chances that you’ll miss a good concert or two. But if you never know about them in the first place, it’s a lot easier to get over.
Admit to yourself early on that you’ll be gone a while and that you’ll probably miss some things. If you do that, it won’t be as much of a shock when the realization starts rolling in.
Granted, Facebook will always be there to remind you about 65 times per day of the things that you’ve missed, but instead of crying over it, just say to yourself, “I’m in [insert country here]!” and assume that you’ve been having just as much fun.
Get used to it.
With the least possible intended pun, going abroad requires an attitude known as, “When in Rome.” The majority of people who go abroad are open-minded to begin with – because they almost have to be – but it is essential to expect the unexpected.
As I’ve said in earlier weeks, there are positive and negative differences between the old culture and the new one, and it’s hard to really differentiate between the two at first. For example, when I first got to Spain, I hated the idea of eating dinner at 9 p.m. or later every night because that’s almost eight hours between meals.
But with time, I came to love eating fruit to hold me over and not having to raid the fridge at midnight for a fourth meal.
Whether you go to England or Indonesia, things will always be different as long as it’s not the culture you’re used to. But, if you’re willing to do as the Romans (or Spanish, or Japanese or Italians) do, nothing should surprise you more than your first few weeks away at college did.
How hard can school really be in Europe when everyone there is just excited to be abroad? It’s not – at least not for me anyway.
There’s absolutely no reason not to take advantage of your Eastern location abroad and travel as much as possible. The most expensive part is getting here, and once that happens, traveling throughout Europe can be dirt cheap if it’s done correctly.
I have three trips planned during March. Not only did I find a bus to Salamanca for 40 euro, but I also managed to book a flight to Portugal for less than 70 euro – round trip.
It’s so simple to spend a minimal amount of money when traveling, as long as you don’t mind spending some time researching on flight and hostel Web sites. Just think ahead and think cheap.
For me, researching takes up so much of my time that it could be a class in itself – and that is a class I actually wouldn’t mind taking.
Carlene Majorino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.