Tips for Studying Abroad by Ilse Damkoehler

1. Keep an open mind. Remember: you’re there to experience the culture, not change it—follow their customs with respect, and you might find your perspective changing.

“At first, when an Italian kissed me on the cheek as a greeting I immediately thought that they were being creepy, a very harsh assumption. Over time, I became used to the greeting and I took part in it as well. I realized that cultures are just different, which doesn’t make one “weirder” than another.” — Alex Shore, Italy (Arcadia University, Summer 2015)

2. Be flexible. Plans have a funny way of going awry when you’re abroad.

“I swore I knew which stop to get off at, but I was very wrong. [My friend and I] looked at each other with wide, slightly nervous eyes and decided we needed to just get off at the next stop and figure out what we did wrong. We decided that we needed to just get on whatever train was going to take us back to the center of the city next. We had no idea if we were near the museum; we just decided that we would eventually find it. We wandered, got fries, went into shops, and saw more of Amsterdam that day than I did any other.” —Maddie Chricton, Kasteel Well (Spring 2015)

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Maddie Crichton at Kasteel Well, Netherlands.

3. Get lost! You’ll learn more about the city and your travel buddies this way.

“Sometimes it doesn’t matter where you go, but who you go with. Some of my best experiences were ones that I didn’t plan, but said “yes” to because I decided to be spontaneous and wanted to get to know someone better by taking a trip with them.” — Brianna Arrighi, Kasteel Well (Summer 2015)

4. Spend time with the locals. They’re the true experts of the city and tourist spots can be very limiting.

“We decided to find a club, famous for its Carnival celebrations. We thought we found it and so we entered, only to find out in a few minutes that we had accidentally crashed a university costume party! But the host graciously accepted us in, gave us more wine, and introduced us to his friends. We had incredible conversation and danced the night away in a big courtyard, overlooking the Grand Canal and seeing people of all ages celebrating.” —Mikayla Bishop, Kasteel Well (Spring 2015)

5. Learn the language. Just knowing the basics will make things much easier.

“I remember one manager at a restaurant would help us learn how to pronounce menu items, which ended up becoming very important and helpful when going to other restaurants and the grocery store.” — Alex Shore, Italy (Arcadia University, Summer 2015)

6. Document everything in a scrapbook or journal—technology is awesome, but it’s better to actually experience the city, not just take a picture of it.

“Maintaining the blog I’d started got to be difficult pretty quickly, but keeping a journal of thoughts, sketches, poetry, and photos was so much better to look back on—it captured my memories much better than my photo albums can.” —Suchita Chadha, India ((SIT Study Abroad, Fall 2014)

7. Don’t be scared to travel alone sometimes. If you’re unsure about it, start small—roam around your host city before you branch out, but definitely take the opportunity to overcome those fears.

“A lot of [my fear] had to do with the expectations I brought with me. It takes living with fears to realize they’re unwarranted.” —Carlie Silva, India (SIT Study Abroad, Fall 2014)

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Yasameen Nassiri in Bergen, Norway

8. Expect culture shock. More importantly, expect reverse culture shock when you return.

“Suddenly the campus [at home] felt huge, I wasn’t used to not recognizing every face I saw, and I felt like a lot of my friends from Boston didn’t really understand what I was going through. I dealt with it by spending more time with my Castle friends, having Castle dinners, and just talking about it. Having other people that understand really helps with the transition.” –Yassameen Nassiri, Kasteel Well (Spring 2015) & London (Aracadia University, Summer 2015)