Editor’s Note: Megan Ellis studied abroad this summer through the UC Davis Summer Abroad program. This is her personal perspective on her experience.
There are seven simple rules to surviving studying abroad. It took five weeks touring the United Kingdom with 23 fellow students for me to realize that not everyone has been tutored in the art of tourism.
I had the privilege of participating in the Education Abroad Program’s Summer Abroad Program, Shakespeare – Live. For four weeks, I lived in London and studied Shakespeare. I saw five of The Bard’s plays, four Broadway plays, and traveled all over the United Kingdom, even spending an additional week touring Scotland.
During this trip, I wondered why some students seemed to struggle with traveling abroad. Homesickness and actual sickness put aside, I think that no amount of educational orientation can prepare one for the disorientation that they feel from living in a different country. That’s when I came up with these seven simple steps to follow when you’re traveling abroad to help with the stupefaction.
Don’t forget your passport. While this may seem trite, a missing passport is no laughing matter. When traveling, it is a good idea to keep your passport on you at all times. Put it somewhere on your person, but nowhere near your back pocket! Stores that sell luggage often sell passport holders, which you can wear around your waist, chest or neck. Also, it is good to photocopy your passport so that if the worst should happen you have a copy to present to the American Embassy in whichever country you’re in. I am not suggesting that you wear your passport 24/7. If you are staying in the same place for a long duration of time, feel free to put it in a safe spot, just don’t forget where that safe spot is. The same goes for subway passes, bus tickets, or tickets to plays. Put these items where you won’t leave them behind, that way, you don’t have to destroy your room looking for the misplaced tickets.
Travel when you’re traveling. Keeping your eyes glued to the computer screen and planting roots in a sofa can be done in the comfort of your own home – for free. While studying abroad, travel! Explore the city you’re in, go to museums, parks or restaurants that you won’t be able to find in America. Talk to the locals, be brave and adventurous. While clubbing is a wonderful weekend activity, spending every night nursing a drink can get pretty pricey. Change it up by taking in a play or a movie or visiting the holiday hotspots in the countryside.
Time-manage your time abroad. If you’re taking a course while traveling abroad, you will get a syllabus outlining your class schedule. Take that syllabus and fill in your free-time with the sites that you want to see. Write it down, that way you have a tentative plan that will prevent the aforementioned couch potato syndrome.
Research is a wallet-friendly action. Be sure to research the sites that you want to visit before you get in line to purchase your ticket. Often, museums or tourist attractions like the London Eye or the Tower of London will have discounted prices for groups, students or pre-purchased tickets. You can either Google it, ask your professor or use brochures. Tour guide books are a good investment: I recommend Rick Steves‘ books because he’s funny and fantastically frugal.
Be sensitive to the needs of fellow students. Traveling takes its toll on everyone – eventually. Some people get homesick, others can get burnt out by culture-overload. Whatever the reason, try to be sensitive to fellow travelers. No one handles the same situation in a similar manner. If you feel like you’re coming down with a case of the cranky-ness, take a walk, go to a museum by yourself or take a nap. Living, studying and traveling together can cause emotions to run high. In order to avoid tension in your living situation, keep common areas clean and label your food so as to avoid accusations of uncleanliness and thievery. In a typical travel abroad living situation, there is no maid to clean up after you, so clean up after yourselves!
Cell phones and e-mail are the best means of communication. While Skype – an online voice and video chatting program – is a wonderful invention, if your housing situation does not have adequate Internet connection, you won’t be able to use it. Purchasing international calling cards is a good idea; typical costs in London were $0.17 per minute for international calls. If you are traveling within the United Kingdom, you can purchase what is called an Orange cell phone for as little as nine pounds, and making calls to the United States only costs six pence per minute. Orange cell phones can be purchased at any Orange store and you can “top up” your cell phone minutes at any store that says “top up“. Having a cell phone is convenient, as you can call your friends if you get lost or use it as an alarm clock.
Don’t make dumb decisions. Though this may seem obvious, some people need to be reminded. Be safe, don’t go home with people you don’t know, don’t leave your drink unattended, and don’t wear a fanny-pack or anything else that simply screams “I’m a tourist, please mug me“. Getting mugged or kidnapped would put a serious damper on your traveling abroad experience.
Traveling in the United Kingdom for five weeks was one of the best experiences of my college career. Not only will you learn about a foreign culture, you’ll learn more about yourself. The best advice I can give any student traveling abroad isn’t an original thought. Douglas Adams gave the best traveling advice that anyone could give, “don’t panic“. You’re not going halfway across the galaxy; you’re just going out of the country.
For more information on UC Davis Education Abroad Program, go to eac.ucdavis.edu.
MEGAN ELLIS can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org