Finessing Abroad: a Lil Cultural Immersion Goes a Long Way

Yeah I’m sure you’ve heard it all before. Girl goes abroad, falls in love with city, can’t stop talking about city, proceeds to shove all the information she can about said city down your throat.

And I’ll be the first to say that I am a guilty of this. I am in love and willingly succumb to this over-the-top love affair. I refuse to stop talking about mi ciudad (Madrid) and I will talk to anyone who is willing to listen about my obsession with this marvelous place.


If you’re thinking about going abroad, stop thinking so hard and just send it. You’re bound to have some highs and some lows, but you’d be taking some Ls anyway if you stayed in Ann Arbor so go immerse yourself in something new. Don’t take for granted the opportunity to frolic around in another country, meet new people, and learn a new language. We’ll all have real adult jobs soon and will need to use vacation time to do that… so don’t be foolish!


Once you decide you’re going abroad, don’t follow all your friends and go exactly where they want to go. Or if you do choose to do that, at least try to take a page or two out of my book. ;)


Check your priorities. Your time abroad is completely dependent upon what you want to get out of your experience there. If you want to learn a language, see the BEST parts of the city you’re living in, make lifelong friends, and fall in love, here’s the recipe:


  1. Relax. You need to strip yourself of whatever social anxieties you’re feeling and realize that asking someone on the street for directions or ordering a sandwich in Spanish is so low-stakes. Foreigners who come to the U.S. deal with learning a new language and adjusting to a new culture every single day and they’re absolutely fearless for that. When you interact with foreigners at home, you don’t burst out laughing when they get grammar wrong, so why do you think anyone would ever do that to you? You gain a lot of humility and confidence once you find yourself grappling with a foreign language, and that is healthy and important for your self-growth. Trial & error, baby.

  2. Have a mentor. Whether you’re living in a homestay or an apartment, form a relationship with an older person who lives in that city. Confide in your teachers, your academic advisors, or your host family. They’ll help you navigate the city, give you insight into the culture’s celebrations and customs, and be your rock!  

  3. Explore the city. On your way home from class, pop into random shops and stores just to get a feel for the vibes. Life is so much more relaxed abroad, you’re not following an extremely regimented schedule like we do here so you’ve got so much more free time to enjoy yourself and form relationships. Don’t be afraid to grab a beer with new classmates, only good things will come out of getting out of your comfort zone.

  4. MEET THE LOCALS. I cannot stress this enough. Nothing, absolutely nothing, is more important to me than the people I met abroad. You will learn SO much about the culture by befriending the people who live there. You get to listen to dope new music, practice your language skills, learn the most insane slang/vocab, have hilarious conversations about the similarities and differences between the US and your city, and you gain the wealth of having global friendships. There’s really nothing like it.

  5. Tinder. There are no words to describe how lit Tinder is abroad. First of all, Europeans are just absolutely bangin’. There must be something in the water over there because you’ll literally drool while walking down the street or swiping through Tinder. Second of all, it’s so chill to go on dates all the time and experience a city through the very people who live and grew up there. It’s a cheap way to see the city when you’re always being taken on dates ;) lolololol.. #lifehack. Third of all, your language skills improve so much because you’re dating in another language. How sick is that. Fourth of all, THE CITY IS YOUR OYSTER—why would you stay in on a Tuesday night and watch some trash TV when you could be having a cerveza with Enrique or Tómas????? No. Brainer. Fifth of all, you now have a plethora of foreign baes. You’re welcome.

  6. Go out as much as possible. You will get so much closer with the people in your program once you’ve had to drunkenly navigate the city at night. Plus, you get to experience how much harder other countries rage. You’ll be returning home at around 6:30 am so don’t forget to say hi to your host family while they’re on their way to work! ;)

a. PRO TIP on meeting locals: making friends waiting in the line for the bathroom is absolutely genius because it passes the time and then you actually have some new buddies who want to follow you on the gram and know all about your American life. Also, once you make ONE gal pal you’re pretty much golden because then she’ll introduce you to her entire crew & then you basically have an automatic squad.

b. Don’t be an obnoxious American. This is key. We show up by the thousands to all of these cities and just terrorize them with our loud, high-pitched, English-speaking voices and it makes life a lot harder for you if the locals are cringing when you’re around. You know it’s bad when people know you’re American before you even walk in the door because they can HEAR you before they see you. Don’t change who you are, just be aware that who you are is just slightly less acceptable in countries that are extremely sensitive to loud noises (but actually, most countries have extremely strict noise laws so loud pregames are very difficult to pull off). Be mindful, das all.


There are so many ways to finesse abroad but I hope these are a good starting point for you lucky kids who are blissfully unaware of how outrageously lit your lives are about to become.

Images courtesy of: Clare Duckworth