Study abroad tips for a first-time traveler, by a first-time traveler
This summer, I had the opportunity of a lifetime studying abroad with the Scripps College of Communication in the historic city of Leipzig, Germany. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, but it wasn’t without its challenges. Here are a few things I learned as a first-time international traveler that will hopefully be useful to future Bobcats looking to explore the world.
Understand conversion rates for temperatures, distance, currency and anything else. “It’s supposed to be a nice day. I think it’s going to be 25 degrees,” one of the German students remarked as he talked about the weather. I was confused – to me, 25° is cold! It took me a second to realize he was speaking in terms of degrees Celsius, and 25°C is 77°F – very nice weather indeed. It might take a while to get used to hearing measurements given in meters and liters and degrees Celsius, so try to gain a basic understanding of the system as soon as possible.
No matter how open-minded you are, expect culture shock. Other countries do certain things very differently than we do in the U.S. From paying a small fee (about 50 euro cents) to use most public restrooms to the lack of air conditioning in many buildings, I experienced my share of minor inconveniences while abroad. And be prepared for reverse culture shock upon coming home as well – my first night back in the U.S., I couldn’t figure out why it was so cold inside every building. Apparently I got used to living without AC!
Document your experience as much as possible. I contributed to three blogs while overseas: the Ohio University Office of Education Abroad’s blog; Borderless Bobcats, the group blog for our team in Leipzig; and my own personal blog. I also took hundreds of pictures and held onto little keepsakes such as my ticket from the soccer game we attended and a matchbook from one of my favorite restaurants. Documenting my trip through many outlets makes it easy to go back and browse through the memories when I’m feeling nostalgic.
Homesickness will set in at one point or another. For me, it happened Memorial Day weekend. My friends back home were posting pictures on social media of patriotic picnics and barbecues. Lots of people had the day off from work and school, but in Germany, it was just another Monday. This made me realize how much I love spending time with my family and friends in the summer, and I have a new found appreciation for that now.
Consider the significance of your experience – you’ll appreciate it even more. One of my favorite days of the entire trip was when we traveled an hour north of Leipzig by train to Berlin. Today, you can walk across Germany’s capital city from east to west without either presenting documentation at a military checkpoint or running into a wall. Twenty five years ago, that wasn’t possible. Part of what made Berlin so amazing for me was the sobering thought that not long ago, this modern, thriving city was the epitome of Cold War hell.
Being a tourist is fun. One weekend, I flew to Italy for a trip with three other girls. We snapped pictures of each other at all kinds of monuments, including the obligatory photos of ourselves “grabbing” a pillar on the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The word “tourist” comes with a stigma, but don’t shy away from the typically “touristy” things – after all, who’s going to believe that I went to Rome if I don’t have a picture of the Coliseum to prove it?
-Lindsey Zimmerman is a sophomore with a double major in public relations and broadcast journalism. Catch up with Lindsey at @lindseyzim716.