Study Abroad Tips for a First-Timer

Study abroad tips for a first-time traveler, by a first-time traveler

Oper LeipzigThis 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.

A Bag Full of Tricks in Leipzig, Germany

KateThis summer I had the great opportunity to further my journalism education across the pond in Leipzig, Germany. Myself, along with thirteen other J-School classmates, traveled thousands of miles to gain a better perspective of international journalism at the University of Leipzig.

I have never had a burning passion to become an international journalist, but was curious how the other side of the world did this journalism thing. During my four weeks abroad, I explored Germany while writing articles, blogs and edited and broadcasted a radio piece. By the end of those four weeks, I gained an immense appreciation for international communicators and realized how important it was to have that skill set.

However, the tasks I completed abroad were tougher than I imagined. I had taken a step back from “traditional” journalism many moons ago when I found my home in public relations at OU. The world was not the same as back home in the United States. I found myself bored to death on trams and trains when no Wi-Fi was provided to check my Facebook or Twitter feeds.

It came as a shock to me when our group visited MDR, one of Germany’s new and innovative television channels that broadcasts to Saxony. A recent batch of interns were exploring the possibility of using social media to attract a younger audience. One intern took it upon herself to start up and run the social media for the company. One girl on her MacBook versus all of Central Germany; I get anxiety just thinking about it!

Because European media was not as tech savvy as I was used to, I had to re-hone my traditional journalism skills. Most of our class assignments were articles or radio pieces. As a result, my experience in Germany soon felt like a distant yet familiar dream as I dived back into the world of broadcast and feature writing.

After my first collaborative article I had shaken out most of the cobwebs and felt more comfortable writing my second article; a profile on an American female acrobatic performer who was currently performing at a local theater show. I stayed up all night perfecting the story before it was published and felt great sense of accomplishment. I hadn’t lost my old writing skills after all!

But how were these old tricks of mine going to help me improve my PR skill set? What was I getting out of this trip that I couldn’t get interning at an agency at home? Then I started to think like the savvy PR chick I am, and realized how important a solid background in news and feature writing was to the world of public relations.

I had spent so much time using social media to promote our client with ImPRessions last year that I forgot the beauty of PR is that we have so many mediums to work through to reach the public. The possibilities are endless, people! How interesting would it have been to post the acrobat story on a travel website or Facebook page to promote the show or entice traveling Americans to visit Leipzig to see the performance.

I think as college students, it’s easy for us to rely solely upon Twitter or Facebook as our PR tools because it’s easy in a college town. However, in the real world (as in the international world) you have to spread all of the pieces across the game board in order to pass go and collect 200 dollars.

What I learned studying international journalism abroad was that by taking the initiative to develop a wide range of journalistic skills, I am able to become the well-rounded PR guru I can be. Because we have to choose a specific journalistic field to major in doesn’t mean we have to limit our abilities. Studying abroad gave me the desire to not become stagnant with relying on what is easy, but to explore what’s challenging. There are so many great ideas and opportunities out there, it just sometimes takes a Bobcat to bring them to life!

-Kate Schroeder is a junior PR major with a psychology minor who studied abroad in Leipzig, Germany summer 2013. Follow her at @kschroeds7.