What I Wish I Had Known Before Studying Abroad

It’s springtime, and that means a lot of you are looking forward to going abroad on Maymesters or the summer months away from home. I’ve been an international traveler for most of my life. As the first generation of my family to be born on American soil, being in non-English speaking countries is pretty normal. Or at least I thought so until my study abroad trip in France. There are some things they don’t teach you in foreign language classes – whether because it’s embarrassing or too specific to talk about in a public class, or just because it never comes up. But some of those things are extremely necessary for everyday life, and I’m here to remind you of them. And yes, most of these do have an embarrassing story to go with them, so just...don't be me.

  • How to ask for loose change. Banks usually give you a variety of bills when you get foreign currency, but they still do give you those huge bills, and you never want to be that person that just springs those on an unsuspecting cashier.
  • How to say, "Where is the shampoo/conditioner/toothpaste/etc?" I truly hope you don't forget any of your necessities when you go abroad, but sometimes things happen or you run out. Make sure you also theoretically understand the response, or else there's no point in asking.
    • I'm going to be bold here and say, if you menstruate and use disposable products like pads and tampons, make sure you know how to say that product and look up what brands are commonly used in your destination, because they may not have what you normally use and nobody likes standing around going "Which one is best for me?" in an emergency. (Yes, I was that dumb girl who didn't know French tampons normally don't come with applicators. Did I know how to read that at the time? No. Do I know now? Oh, definitely.)  
  • How to ask for first aid/a band-aid. 
  • What to say when someone knocks on the door of the public bathroom you're using.
  • What to say while shopping when a salesperson asks if you're looking for anything in particular or if you need help, and how to ask for a return or exchange.
  • How to ask for a to-go box, the check, and how to split the check. Most countries take credit cards on the regular, but it never hurts to learn how to ask about that too. 
  • And, last but not least, how to say, "Your dog is so cute! Can I pet it?" Don't miss out on those international pups.

Hopefully, this list helps you alleviate some of the stress of pre-departure. Culture shock is totally normal, and this list is not completely comprehensive, as I well know. But your study abroad trip should be about you experiencing different cultures and learning so much about yourself and the world, not just you struggling through basic interactions of just living. If you have any questions about study abroad (I've been twice), or specifically about the month in London program or the month in Angers, France, program, feel free to reach out at my pop.belmont address. 

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