When I stepped off the plane to begin my study abroad, London greeted me with torrential downpours and winds that turned my umbrella inside out. As I dodged puddles, the reality of what I had signed up for started to sink in.
I had just left my friends, teachers and the city I love 3,400 miles away, and there was no turning back. I didn’t know my way around; I kept forgetting which way to look when I crossed the road, and the rain didn’t seem like it was stopping anytime soon. Luckily, I ended up having the time of my life in London— it was one of the best decisions I have made. Here are a few things I wish I knew before studying abroad.
Even if we don’t want to admit it, being abroad isn’t just a full-out vacation; there’s still school on our plates. Abroad sites are very strict about attendance; for every class you miss, professors dock points. Since my classes were around eight to 20 people in size, I couldn’t sleep through my 9 a.m.’s like I could in New York.
Take classes that are relevant to your abroad site. These classes will be more immersive and provide a more cohesive understanding of the respective culture than if you were to take them back in New York. In London, I learned about Brexit from my European Union class and loved being able to understand the headlines I was reading in London’s local newspaper, The Daily Telegraph.
As interesting as your classes may be, staying on top of work while abroad can be difficult: a weekend trip to Monaco always seems more appealing than a 10-page paper for a class you don’t care about. As dreadful as it is, try to get your work done during the week so your weekends are free for traveling or exploring your abroad site. But sometimes you choose traveling over studying and find yourself having to write a paper on a bus ride home from Brussels five hours before the deadline. Trust me, when I say it will happen. After you’ve scrambled off the bus from your weekend getaway, it’s time to get creative to find study spots. Some of my favorite places to get work done around campus were Gail’s Bakery (try its cinnamon rolls), the British Library and empty classrooms in the NYU London building.
For a lot of people, the allure of jetting off to another country often overpowered the idea of exploring their own study abroad site. Traveling every weekend can be great, but you chose your site for a reason. Take time to explore the city and country your study abroad site is in, and you’ll value your time there so much more than if you just treat it as a place to drop your bags in between trips.
That being said, traveling out of the country and exploring the rest of the world is undoubtedly one of the best parts of studying abroad. Traveling within Europe is cheaper than it is to travel within the U.S. Take advantage of the low-cost train tickets in Europe and go somewhere you’ve never been before. Youth hostels and Airbnbs will quickly become your friend, as well as Ryanair, EasyJet and other discount airlines. I bought an airplane ticket to Scotland that ended up being cheaper than the train ride to the airport.
When it comes to studying abroad, you get out of it what you put into it. If you take the time to get to know your site, try to learn in your classes and make the most of the opportunities for travel, you’ll have an awesome experience. Leaving New York for a different site can be daunting, but the adventures you find will be worth the risk, and in London, worth the rain.
Email Sarah Nosal at [email protected]