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Salut! It’s been a while since I’ve written one of these, but in my defense, I’ve been swamped. In the past week, I’ve been to three countries and crossed so many experiences off the bucket list. Besides Switzerland, my study abroad program went to Paris, France, and Brussels, Belgium this week. While it was amazing, and I’m still processing, I have a flight to Barcelona to catch tomorrow too–that I most definitely haven’t packed for.  

My life has been a blur of luggage, train tickets, questionable Airbnbs, and vigorously slapping my pants pockets to make sure I haven’t been pickpocketed–and honestly, while exhausting, I hope that in a few months, I feel like I wouldn’t trade it for the world. 

But don’t worry–whenever I learned a new lesson while traveling, I wrote it down in my notes app to write about here, later. So, here we go:  

You’ll feel like you’re regressing with your host family. 

For most people, studying abroad happens at least a year after you’ve started college. You’ve learned how to cook for yourself (or, at least, you’ve learned how to make a grilled cheese for yourself), and you’ve become used to being responsible for your own safety and your own living situation– and most importantly, you’ve gotten used to living on your own. 

Moving into a host family has, in some ways, felt like I’m back in high school. While I love my host family, I’m in an environment where they always know where I am, they know when I go to sleep and they know how much homework I’m doing. I have rules about helping with dishes, and when to clean my sheets. Dinners consist of “how was school?” and “school was fine…” (in French, of course). 

I consider myself lucky, still–I don’t have a curfew and I do my own dishes and wash my sheets pretty often at home, too. It’s the having someone tell me to do my chores or my homework, or comment on my late-night shower habits, that is weird. You would think, seeing as I lived with my family less than four years ago, it wouldn’t be that big of an adjustment–but trust me, you get used to being independent in college pretty quickly, and it’s weird to fall into old habits. 

Expectations can ruin or make a destination. 

When I learned that our study abroad program was going to Brussels, Belgium, I didn’t really have a reaction. As for Paris, I was excited but also nervous from rumors about pickpocketers, scammers, and just…dirtiness in general. 

Travel bloggers, TikTokers, and Instagram influencers, in general, have affected my perception of travel more than I realized. And, compared to a lot of my friends, I’m pretty well-traveled, so I was surprised it was such an issue. Because Brussels was rarely seen on social media, I wasn’t as excited about it as seeing the sparkly Eiffel Tower I’d seen in the background of some TikTokers OOTD video. I have this issue a lot with hikes as well–I’ll see one on Instagram near me, and then get perhaps too excited about it, while missing other hikes that I may prefer more. 

The fact of the matter is, I loved Brussels. Loved it. I think part of the reason I fell in love with the city, despite only being there for two days, is because it was such a surprise. The most famous parts of the city, like the Grand Place or Mannekin Pis, were unknown to me before I arrived. In that instant, I got to see the world with my own eyes first, instead of seeing it on my phone weeks before.

It’s hard to avoid the media in Paris. I’d also been before, so I didn’t have the surprised and adventurous feeling Brussels gave me. The videos of a magical, sparkly, accordion-music-in-the-background Paris I had seen on Instagram most definitely didn’t help my case either. Paris is beautiful, for what it is. That being said, I caught myself being tired, or cranky, or simply less-than-overjoyed a couple of times, and thought to myself: I’m being spoiled. Here I am in Paris and I just want to go home to my host family’s bed and sleep. 

If I didn’t have the expectation that Paris would be amazing, I wouldn’t be beating myself up for being unhappy, which honestly caused me the most grief while I was there. If I had expectations for Brussels, I might have had the same issue. 

While it’s important to do your research on destinations, feel free to leave a little to the imagination. Otherwise, what’s the point of going at all? (Oh, and invest in a fanny pack/money belt for Paris. Really).

Brussels, Belgium.

Take advantage of your visa, student ID, and age.

If your program is anything like mine, you’ll have to get an EU visa (which will be pasted inside of your USA passport). 

This visa is like a golden ticket to almost any museum or attraction you could think of. With it, I got into the Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, Versailles, and more for free. I probably saved over 70 euros on admission prices. If you’re in Europe, this visa will take you a lot farther than you think.

This goes for student IDs as well. Prices can be halved or more for those with an ID card from their university. Be sure to also check what the admissions office qualifies as “adult” as well. In the U.S., “adult” tickets are almost always 18 years and up. Abroad, it varies much more–youth tickets can go up to 26 and this will save you a lot more than you might anticipate. 

Versailles, Paris, France–which I got into for free with my long-stay student visa.

Budget beforehand. 

This one is pretty simple. Write out how much money you want to spend before going on a weekend trip, and you won’t spend as much. Easy as that.

You’ll be more homesick than you think, later in the year than you think. 

I thought I would only really have to worry about homesickness in the first weeks, but my homesickness has really only hit now, almost two months in. I miss the grocery stores, my college campus, my own room, and most importantly, my friends, family, and loved ones.  

I think it’s important to keep in touch with these people and maintain a line of connection with them. Otherwise, it can get lonely pretty quickly. Of course it can–you’re in a new country, with people that, no matter how amazing, you’ve only known for so long. 

Being prepared for a mid-semester bout of homesickness won’t help everything, but it will help a little. Be prepared, and communicate properly with your loved ones–they won’t understand why you’re acting grumpy or just unstable without you telling them. 

Learn from my mistakes!

Genevieve Andersen

CU Boulder '24

Genevieve is a CU student studying Political Science and French. She loves reading, dogs, and all things outdoors, and in her free time you'll find her on a hiking or ski trail!