“So, You Want to Study Abroad? 5 Snarky Tips for Doing it Right”

1. Leave your best friend at home (or at least study in different places)

Please tell me about how you and your best friend are inseparable, how you both went to the same university and have done everything together—and how careful you are not to venture too far apart and risk developing unique personality traits. Said no one ever. Seriously. Consider this: Do you want to independently live and study abroad, or do you want to have a convenient safety net at your side to rely on when you start to feel homesick and uncomfortable?

I know it’s enticing to study abroad with your best friend. It’s an adventure, and what better way to spend it than wreaking havoc with your BFF in a foreign country. I get it, but let’s reconsider. Do you want to improve your language skills, grow, learn, and meet new friends and locals? You can do this all with your best friend, but what comes with doing it alone is the immense satisfaction and pride of knowing that you’re capable of flying to a new country, creating a social network, mastering the language and conquering without the crutch of something familiar to fall back on.

If you must be abroad the same time as your best friend, at least study in different places. You’ll be far enough to not depend on one another, yet will both experience similar things. Plus, if you’re not too far, you’ll have an excuse to visit one another in your respective cities.

2. Dump your SO

Have you ever imagined cheating on your significant other abroad? Yes? Dump him or her. No? Then dump him or her anyway. Am I being too harsh? At the very least you might consider taking a “break” (You’ll end up splitting anyway.) My heavily circumstantial evidence says it’s happened before, so it will happen to YOU.

Not really, but this one really depends on your and your partner’s integrity and relationship. Have you ever been this far apart in the past? Do you have arrangements to visit one another? Have you clearly defined what and what isn’t acceptable in the context of your relationship?

I knew a couple of girls abroad who had their boyfriends visit. It was sweet in a sickening sort of way, but it allegedly worked out. I also know people who cheated abroad. Some of those SOs found out. Some didn’t. Being abroad for an extended period of time is tricky and distance makes the heart grow fonder…of someone else. You are your best judge. My advice: Leave your boyfriend behind, enjoy your time abroad without daily Skype dates and WhatsApping, meet boys with weird names and go have sex (safely) with a European.

3. Cancel your Netflix subscription

Do I really have to explain this one? Listen, you might as well kick the lame-ass habit of coming home from class and cozying up with your pillow and watching reruns of insert basic show here all day now, before you go abroad I mean. Get a life, get a hobby, get some friends or, if you detest social interaction, pick up a book and go to a café or park like any good sad literary girl would do. If you’re having trouble meeting people or the people around you are just simply boring, consider downloading a dating app. If you’re truly a misanthrope (I get it, but get over it), why did you decide to study abroad in the first place?

I had a lot of down time abroad and, honestly, when you’re operating in a foreign language all day you will want some time to recharge, but you’ll see and do a lot more if you save the binge watching for back home. An alternative could be to go to the movie theater in your host country. On Wednesdays, Van Dyck theaters in Spain had half-price tickets but the movie was, of course, en español.

4. Get involved with something outside of classes

While abroad, I blogged for my program provider, which allowed me to reflect on my experiences based on more PG prompts. It was unpaid, but provided valuable contacts within the organization as well as showed me that people exist who are willing to read my writing online. Something other than heavy drinking on the weekends would be desirable but, hey, not everyone can say they aren’t guilty of that.

Getting a part-time job is tricky in Europe for Americans (Basically you can’t unless it’s under the table or tutoring.) Internships would most likely be unpaid and require foresight, planning and a strong command of the native language. My program in Spain offered volunteering at local elementary schools to assist with English lessons for a couple of hours a week. Language exchanges are also popular and lighthearted and are hosted by schools or bars popular with internationals. Typically, you will converse in English and a foreign language your group or partner speaks (i.e. Spanish, French, Japanese etc.), switching back and forth. I recommend it if you’re looking to meet people without awkward pretenses. You can find exchanges and other events at Meetup.com or CouchSurfing.com.

5. Get a SIM card with a data plan

This one is kind of random, but you’ll thank me. I know when I got my 1 GB data plan from Orange and put that little baby in my shitty Samsung that I felt like a real person again. I paid only around 10€ (two Starbucks lattes and a croissant in Amerispeak for you basics) a month for the gig of data and unlimited calls, but never had to use the calls anyway. Don’t get sucked into your phone provider from home’s expensive international plan, or the plans that your program might try to set you up with. This is the cheapest method I know of and will let you feel in-tune with local communication and not tethered to Wi-Fi. Let’s be honest, you sound really obnoxious after the tenth time you go to a café/restaurant/bar and ask for the Wi-Fi password.

Also, in Spain this was gold because nearly every Spaniard I knew used WhatsApp to text and call friends/family/others with a data plan or over Wi-Fi. I felt much more comfortable meeting and making plans with locals on-the-go, looking up directions, etc. I still have over 40 random numbers in my contacts on WhatsApp from my piso hunting in Madrid. This means that the 1 GB was just enough for me to text and make calls using WhatsApp when I didn’t have Wi-Fi readily available. Some people in my program exclusively used Wi-Fi. It’s clearly the cheapest option, but to me, it just felt unnatural.

Traveling Means Learning to Embrace the Ugly

All too often traveling is glamorized. Travel writers still romanticize destinations with idyllic descriptions and flowering imagery. Cities are exalted for their pristineness, their beauty, their grandeur, or the ugly, offbeat ones become eclectic, edgy and upcoming. Is there a guidebook that won’t tiptoe around their flaws? After all, we’ve all got a little ugliness in us—even the “pretty” ones—and that’s what makes us human.

The world has been seen already. There’s no truly undiscovered travel destination. It’s easy to fit a place into its prefabricated box—Paris is beautiful and romantic. Istanbul is where East meets West. Spain is the land of siestas, sangria and bullfights. Landmarks, cliches, pseudo-cultural traditions, the guidebook restaurants and bars—some quality, and some just touristy fluff—dot the modern traveler’s itinerary and, worse, define the destinations they belong to.It’s exhausting. Where are the people? The embarrassing anecdotes? The sarcasm, irony and wit? The real thoughts and emotions? Where’s the personal discovery?

I’m not here to give you the authentic travel experience; I’m here to give you my travel experience. I’m sarcastic, I’m snarky and I’m candid. I’m not here to offend or insult cultures but I’m here to tell you my stories—the haphazard and the delightful—for entertainment or for wisdom. Maybe both.  I certainly don’t know it all, and I welcome advice, banter and a good story just the same way I dish it out. I have only been to a small handful of countries, and maybe a quarter of the states in the US. I am changing that. I’ve written travel blog posts for my awesome program provider, ISA, while in Spain (see them here, here, here and here), and even though they’re more PG than I’d like, I realized that reflecting and blogging about my travels is something ritualistic and invaluable to me.

I’m developing my voice as a writer and seeing the world, too, while leveraging my critical perspective to highlight the human elements of travel—both positive and negative. If you see the value in honesty, this blog is for you. If you asked me “Does this outfit make me look fat?” and I said yes, and you were still my friend, then this blog is for you. If you like travel, late-night adventures, wine, dancing, sassy friends, cheap food, and poking fun at it all while learning to be a (somewhat) better person, then you might consider subscribing. I want you to come with me. Come judge with me, that is, and embrace the ugly. Let’s go.


The Snarky Sightseer