If you’re considering studying abroad (or even moving abroad), check out my advice on the things I learned while living in Sevilla, Spain!
I’m going to start with packing, because it is really important when you are going away for a long period of time. Here is a list of some of the important things I packed (and forgot to pack, but regretted it) that will hopefully help you to prepare to move to a new country!
- Watch: I recommend bringing a watch with you. When you are home, if you don’t wear a watch frequently, you probably use your cell phone to check the time. While abroad (since pickpocketing and theft is so common) taking your phone out in public can be dangerous. A watch is an easy way to check the time and prevent your cell phone from being stolen. (If you are worried about a nice watch, find a cheaper one to bring so you are not concerned if anything happens to it.)
- Camera: Some people go abroad with the impression that they can take all their pictures on their iPhone. Although the iPhone takes nice pictures, I suggest bringing a camera. Usually a camera has better zoom, which will help you to capture all of the beautiful things you will find during your travels. Also, a camera usually can hang around your wrist, while your cell phone can easily be snatched out of your hand by a pick-pocketer.
- Rain Jacket: Even if you are going to a city famous for its sun (like Sevilla), pack a rain jacket!! Chances are, even if rain is uncommon in your city, you might be traveling to a city (like Paris or London) where rain is common! If you can manage, I suggest packing a small umbrella as well.
- Clothes for all types of weather: This might seem obvious, but don’t forget to pack a big sweater (in case you travel somewhere cold) or a bathing suit (in case you find yourself traveling to the beach). It’s best to have a variety on hand, even if the city you are traveling to has typically the same type of weather.
- Allergy medicine: This is something you don’t always think about, but allergies happen everywhere. Even if you don’t get Spring allergies at home, that doesn’t mean you won’t get them abroad. Since the medicine can be different in each country, I suggest packing a box of your favorite (non-drowsy) allergy medicine from home before you leave!
- Slippers: Carpeted homes is actually more of an American thing, believe it or not! Most homes in Europe have wood or tile floors. Depending on the season, these floors get very cold! Also, if you are living with a host family, it is usually uncommon (and sometimes considered rude) for a person to walk around in their socks or barefoot. I recommend finding a nice pair of slippers to pack towear around the house/hotel/apartment/hostel.
- Contact solution: This only applies if you wear contacts, duh! It was difficult for me to find contact solution while living in Spain and the solution was not the best for my eyes or contacts. My suggestion is to bring a larger bottle, as well as a small (carry-on sized) bottle of contact solution for your travels.
- Good headphones: I only brought one pair of headphones and they broke while I was abroad. To avoid spending money on a new pair, pack two, or a set that is really reliable! Being without headphones is not fun when you are traveling and want to listen to music or Skype your family!
- Neck Pillow: I left for Spain under the impression that I wouldn’t need one of these. I was wrong. Neck pillows are good for when you are trying to sleep on trains, planes, busses…and even at an airport. I suggest buying one that you can blow up and deflate, so it doesn’t take up too much space in your luggage when you are not using it!
- Motion Sickness Pills: This is a good idea to pack for long flights and bus rides.
- Good walking shoes: I cannot stress this enough: people walk everywhere in big cities!!! I brought a pair of comfortable boots and put those pads that make them even more comfy on the inside, and I managed to wear them both down in the course of one and half months! Be prepared and pack comfortable boots, Sperry’s, sandals and sneakers…whatever is going to be easiest for you to get around in! (I probably walked an average of 5-8 miles each day in Sevilla…crazy I know!)
- Band-Aids: Although you can pick these up at a local pharmacy while abroad, it’s good to have a starter pack on hand. Chances are, you will be very busy settling in during your first week abroad. Remember how I mentioned everyone walks in big cities? At first, your feet will probably blister (maybe even bleed) and its good to be have band aids to ease the pain the back of your ankles or bottom of your feet are feeling from all the walking!!
- Flip Flops: Plan on traveling and staying in a hostel??? Bring a pair of cheap flip flops for the shower!!!! This is very important.
Now for more of the fun stuff…
Living in a new country is a great time to take risks and explore! While living in Spain, I took a chance on a trip to Africa for the weekend! Although I was nervous, it turned into the greatest time!! Don’t be too quick to say “no” to a new place, event or type of food. It could turn into a great time!
Make friends with locals
The best way to improve your experience abroad is to make friends with the locals in your city. You will obviously make friends with other Americans who are in your study abroad program, but it is important to branch out. Don’t always travel in large groups of American students. It’s easier to meet locals with a smaller group of 3-4 people. Locals will be able to show you cool places in the city you might not have discovered without them, tell you what food to try and teach you about their culture. It’s nice to know you have friends all over the world!
Television shows, as well as the news, tells a lot about the country you are living in. It can help improve your understanding of the language and keep you informed about the problems going on there.
Go with the flow.
While abroad, you will learn that everything doesn’t go according to plan. For example, your flight might be delayed, you might misread the map, or maybe you are having trouble communicating with people at a restaurant. All of these things can set you back, but you have to learn to go with the flow! Take a deep breathe, let it go, and move on. Sometimes, you stumble upon some really great things when you don’t stick to your plan. These things always make a good story (down the road anyways).
Try not to worry as much about all the things you are eating while abroad because you are probably walking a lot of it off anyways. You’re in a new place, you have to indulge in the local delicacies! So enjoy desert every now and then.
Take the long way home.
You’ll discover new places and new sights. Don’t be afraid to stray off the beaten path a little.
If Lost–Look Up!
Although this may seem strange, trust me when I say it works! If you ever find yourself lost in a city, take the time to look up and around (chances are you will see some tall building or monument in the distance that will point you in the right direction)! So many times Kayla and I were lost in new cities, but found our way by looking up!! We always joked about it while traveling but it’s the truth!! So before you panic, take the time to look up!!
Say yes to one more drink.
Unless you’ve already had too many, why not say yes to another round! You will never remember the nights you stayed in and went to bed early. Trust me when I say that I am the Queen of staying in and going to bed early. But being abroad, drinking is more relaxed. You have more time to enjoy yourself when studying abroad, so why not say yes to another drink?
Bring Toilet Paper…Everywhere
In the States, it’s rare when you come across a stall in a public restroom with no toilet paper. In Europe, it’s rare when you come across a stall in a public restroom WITH toilet paper. This advice is more for the ladies than the gents, but pack some tissues or pieces of toilet paper in your purse wherever you go (restaurant, bar, club, café, school, museum, etc). My friends and I had to learn this the hard way, but trust me–you’ll thank me later.
Practice the native language as often as you can.
This goes along with making local friends, but practice your languages skills as often as you can. The more you use it, the better at it you will be. Everyone starts out rough, but you will only get better as you practice with your host family, local friends and students at your school.
Try new food.
I was a very picky eater when I first left for study abroad. But I told myself that I would try it all, and I did! Take a risk, because you never know what you will end up liking!! It’s all part of the experience.
As you live in a foreign country, and travel around the world, you begin to realize there is so much out there. At home, it is easy for us to be wrapped up in so many little, day-to-day problems. But when you travel, you realize that those problems aren’t really problems at all. You learn to see things differently, and appreciate everything that you have. Few things have the ability to make you feel the way that travel does…It challenges you, humbles you, teaches you and strengthens you. Embrace all of these things that traveling makes you feel and I promise, when you lose yourself in it all, you’ll really be finding yourself. xoxo
“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone” -Neale Donald Walsch
I knew I wanted to write a post when I returned home regarding all the things I learned during my time abroad. It is obvious that living in a foreign country for 3.5 months will teach you a lot, but what exactly did I learn? There are some apparent things every study abroad student learns, and some things that I honestly didn’t expect to learn about.
My Lessons Learned:
This one is pretty obvious, and was one of the main reasons I went abroad. I wanted to become better at Spanish. Before leaving, I had taken some advance Spanish courses for my minor. I was able to read and write relatively well, but speaking was a different story. However, I certainly learned quickly once I was living with a woman who spoke no English. It is challenging, but exciting to be able to speak another language. I was able to catch on to slang and colloquialisms of Sevilla. Before I realized what was happening, my brain began working in Spanish. What I didn’t expect to learn, however, was how to speak a little of some other languages…such as Arabic, French, Portuguese and Italian. I also became very proficient in the art of charades while abroad, especially when my words failed me and the language barrier was too high.
(My “intercambio” (talking partner)Macarena: she’s a Spanish student at the University of Sevilla and the sweetest person!)
I guess it is clear that I would become a better packer while studying abroad. Since I traveled on air planes that charged for suitcases, we always packed what we would need for our trips in our carry-on bags. I am a very indecisive person sometimes (especially when it comes to clothes). But when it came time to pack, I always had to choose a few outfits and hope the weather prediction for the weekend was true. I also learned to not only pack efficiently, but quickly. I can’t count how many times my roommate and I left packing to the last minute. (Not necessarily out of choice but because we were always busy!) At the very end of the semester, one hour before I left Sevilla for my flight home, I was still packing. And then a half hour before leaving, I was sitting on my suitcase in an attempt to get everything to fit. (That was out of choice because I couldn’t believe I was really leaving Spain). When it came to packing it was all about versatile items, such as light jackets that could be taken on and off depending on the temperature. I also learned how to work with less. The packing skills I acquired while abroad will come in handy for the rest of my life!
How to Relax
Living in a country with a slower paced lifestyle than the US, I learned how to truly relax. For anyone who knew me before I left, I was always very busy and always very stressed! This trip was like an extended vacation for me. I finally learned how to slow down, take a deep breathe and enjoy the things around me. I started planning less and less, and celebrating each moment more and more.
Living in a computer aged world, where I was always able to rely on my phone or GPS to help me find my way, I was forced to revert back to reading a map during my time abroad. I can still remember my first day in Sevilla, when my roommate and I had to navigate our way from the center of the city, back to our apartment in Triana. (Getting lost was a normal occurrence my first week abroad). More importantly, maps were most important when visiting other countries. I remember relying on our map of Rome to get us EVERYWHERE. (At least in Paris and London we had some friends to show us around). We would have never found the Trevi Fountain without a map! Being able to read maps, whether city maps, metro maps or bus maps—is a skill I have acquired while living abroad. It is the best way to figure out a city quickly. In all honesty, I think I prefer a map over a GPS now!
This was one of the most important things study abroad taught me. I wouldn’t say I was particularly impatient when I left for Spain, but I certainly did not have the patience I have now. In Europe, Spain especially, people do not mind waiting in lines. My average wait at the post office was 25 minutes, and the average wait in a grocery store check-out line was 15 minutes. As an American, I am not used to waiting like this, but people overseas don’t seem to mind as much. The people in Spain definitely walk slower than in the States too, and no one is ever in a huge rush to get anywhere. My friends and I would constantly joke that we were on “Spain time” when we would show up late to a meeting place—because Spanish people are always late.
Another aspect of patience I learned was listening. At the very beginning of my time abroad, I learned how important patience is when it comes to speaking another language. Lucky for my roommate and me, our host mom was equally patient when it came to conversations. It’s important to not allow yourself to get frustrated when you don’t understand—even when someone repeats themselves three times and you are still confused. Spanish people in general are very patient, not only when it comes to waiting in line but when it comes to speaking with foreigners.
I don’t know how obvious this was to me when I was first planning to study abroad, but saying goodbye to my parents in the airport made me realize that I had no choice but to be courageous the next few months. This was the first time in my life I was truly on my own. Yes, I live at school, away from home, but if I want to see my parents it is only a short drive for either of us to visit. Then suddenly I found myself 3,000 miles away in a foreign country.
Although people often view courage as huge heroic acts, I see it a little differently. Courage is climbing 551 steps to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica even though I’m afraid of heights. It is taking a chance on a trip to Africa and having it turn into an amazing adventure. Courage is asking directions in a country where you don’t speak the native language. It is trying new food…like blood sausage and duck liver and bulls tail. No matter how outgoing you are, courage is something living abroad will teach you. There is no doubt that Spain and the other countries I traveled to tested me every chance they got, but it made me a stronger person in the end. I am so proud of what I achieved and who I have become from living abroad.
(Top of St. Peter’s Basilica!)
Getting Lost is OKAY
I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but I learned that getting lost is okay. Sometimes, when you wander off the beaten path, you stumble upon some of the coolest things. I used to hate getting lost when I was in the US, but there was something tranquil about getting lost on the streets of Paris or the back roads of Sevilla. Eventually, you will find your way… but enjoy getting lost in the meantime. It is something I never appreciated before, and now I realize it is all part of the journey.
(One day when we were lost in Sevilla, my friends and I Stumbled upon this!)
Of course I understood what friendship meant before going abroad. But friendship takes on an entirely different meaning when you live abroad with someone. I was blessed with an amazing roommate and best friend to live and travel with. We saw each other at our absolute worst. We comforted each other when we were homesick and we laughed hysterically over saying the wrong things in Spanish. We took care of each other when the other caught a cold and we looked out for each other, wherever we went. Kayla was my family while abroad and made me realize how truly important it is to have the right type of friends in your life. I cannot express how much I appreciate all the times we had together adventuring around the world. It is certainly difficult to be with someone 24/7 but Kayla and I just worked together. It takes a lot of trust, patience and understanding when living with a friend abroad. I now understand more about true friendship than ever before. Thanks Kay!!
As strange as it is to say that I learned about love while abroad, it’s true. Love is a universal language and my host Mom made that clear right away to us. She explained (in Spanish) that she wanted her home to feel like our homes back in the US. She wanted us to be comfortable and always reminded us that she was there for us if we had questions or needed anything. Although we didn’t always understand each other…smiles and laughter were always understood. It feels like just yesterday I was meeting her for the first time—worried about living with a complete stranger. Before I knew it, she was family. A little over two weeks ago, I stood on the side of the road in a group hug with Kayla and our host Mom, waiting for a taxi to take us to the bus station—all three of us crying because it was time to say goodbye. There are no language barriers when it comes to caring for another person, and my host Mom taught me a lot about hospitality, kindness and love.
“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of knowing and loving people in more than one place”
Even though I am all packed, I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that I am leaving for Spain tomorrow!! I feel like for the past 5 months all I’ve done is talk about this trip and it’s finally here!! I will admit, I am nervous but also very excited!! I want to thank all my family and friends for being so supportive and helpful!
Now you might be wondering how I packed my life into a suitcase for 3 months! I’m wondering the same thing actually…shout-out to my awesome Mom for being such a huge help!! Basically, I broke it down to my favorite, most versatile clothing items, which wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be! Here’s a peek at my packing process over the last couple of days!
(I took over the dining room table with everything I wanted to bring)
Miraculously, it all fit into my suitcase…surprisingly! (Again, thanks Mom!)
And here’s a picture of the final product! My suitcase (weighing in at only 43 pounds) my carry-on, and my purse!
Also hidden deep in my suitcase is a gift for my host family! They recommended you bring something from where you live, so I purchased a jar of Peach/Raspberry Jam from Indian Head Farm! I hope my host Mom likes it!!
Now all I can do is pray for safe and stress-free travels! I should arrive in Madrid Monday morning, where I will be picked up and taken to the hotel by the study abroad program! They have a week-long Orientation planned for us in Madrid, Toledo and then Seville! I can’t believe it’s really happening!!
For more details on my packing process, check out my post on ISA’s website where I am a student blogger!
Stay tuned for my next post about Orientation!! xoxo