New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

5 inevitable study abroad mistakes

As you buckle up for your long-anticipated study abroad experience, be sure to avoid these common slip-ups.
Aaliya Luthra
(Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

As someone who’s roughly halfway through her study away semester at NYU Madrid, let me be the first to tell you: You will make bad decisions. Going to NYU makes us all think we’re invincible when it comes to navigating new places — but the truth is, a different country is no joke. With how vast NYU’s global network is, each student’s experience is set up to be wildly different, but some things may stay the same — getting lost at the airport, draining your wallet for basic amenities and getting laughed at by the locals. Instead of convincing yourself you’re the exception to this tried-and-true rule, mentally prepare yourself for these five mistakes that will inevitably happen. 


Getting scammed by Ryanair

For those traveling to Europe, let me set the stage: You’re scrolling through Skyscanner, trying to plan a trip for every weekend possible with as little money as possible, and you find yourself in the miraculous world of budget airlines. With flights for as low as a few dollars, you glaze past all the rules and regulations and purchase the first tickets you see. You’re a college student, and you’ve survived flying Spirit Airlines your whole life — you can handle some minor inconveniences, right? 

Wrong. Between the hidden fees and the lack of communication, you’ll be pulling your hair out before you’re even at security. Want to bring a regular backpack? Fee. Want to drink water? Try upgrading to premium. Want to arrive at your gate on time? Sorry, it was actually moved to the other end of the airport and you’ve already missed your flight. While budget airlines are definitely worth the price for shorter flights, I would not rely on them if you’ve got a strictly planned itinerary or a general lack of patience. Make sure you read all the regulations and remember that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Despite the possibility of saving a little money, you will pay with your sanity and potentially a language-barrier-fueled breakdown in the middle of the airport.


Caving in and buying fast food

I know — you’re determined to explore local cuisines and visit a small family-run restaurant that’s been serving the same food since before you were born. And for most meals, you do. However, when you’ve taken your fifth red-eye flight of the month and fought several demons to get through security, the glistening call of the nearest Burger King may be tempting. At a certain point, you will cave in and buy fast food. It doesn’t help that it’s much cheaper in most other cities compared to New York. And even if you lie to your friends and say you supported a small business, you’ll know deep in your heart that you shamefully pressed some buttons on a self-service kiosk at KFC to avoid social interaction. Don’t beat yourself up too much, though, because it’s still fun to see how fast food chains tailor their menus for cuisines around the world — even if you are succumbing to corporate greed.


Chickening out and speaking English 

When I decided to study abroad, I brushed up on my Spanish like nobody’s business. My goal was to leave the semester at least fluent, if not a linguist of the highest order. However, to this day, I walk into a restaurant, and before I can even open my mouth, the waiter lets me know that they speak English. It’s embarrassing, even though I know not to say “Estoy embarazada” — meaning “I’m pregnant,” for all my Madrid and Buenos Aires people. Unfortunately, there is a nonzero chance that you will be clocked as a tourist, regardless of how well you speak the local language. Even if the local language is, in fact, English. Sorry, you’re not safe in London or Sydney either. 

Despite how well you think school has prepared you for study abroad, you will fumble through coffee orders and get weird stares. It takes forever to adapt to local idioms, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Studying abroad will improve your ability to speak another language, but it will admittedly take a long time. I recommend asking to continue in the local language and clarifying that you’re trying to learn — as long as the establishment isn’t super crowded, most people will oblige. Although it can be awkward to be called out due to your perpetually dazed tourist look, these interactions give you memories to attach your newfound vocabulary to, so it’s not all bad. 


Messing up on public transport

Once you’ve mastered the New York City subway system, it feels like you can take anything on. With New York’s express trains skipping the most vital stops at random junctures and shady interactions that force you to avert eye contact, the metro in most cities abroad will feel refreshing. That is, however, until you take the language barrier into account and realize the grid system you’ve taken for granted no longer exists. It’s inevitable that you will get on the wrong train or purchase a travel card that only works on certain days of the week, holding up the bus line behind you and getting yelled at by the driver. Honestly, though, messing up on public transport builds character. There’s nothing that humbles you quite like showing up to class late panting because you can’t understand Google Maps. And, best of all, it’ll give you an appreciation for the city’s numerically organized subway system — rats, unreasonable fares and all.


Dressing like ‘Emily in Paris’

Raise your hand if you’ve been personally victimized by a beret. We’ve all done it — declared “new city, new me” as we put down our cards to purchase the most atrocious ensemble at the first boutique we step into. The truth is, that “Gossip Girl”-inspired fit screams main character in the worst way possible. I know it, you know it and the locals wearing normal clothing around you know it. There’s nothing wrong with experimenting with your personal style, especially if you’re in a new country where you truly can reinvent yourself, but maybe put down that fifth plaid two-piece set and reflect for a minute. When midterms come around — because yes, unfortunately, study abroad classes are still real classes — you will be yearning for just a regular pair of yoga pants. Although you might look back and cringe, it builds confidence to pair a neon green overcoat with a purple skirt while walking down cobblestone European streets. Plus, poor fashion decisions are temporary, but the comedic entertainment for your future self and all your Instagram followers is forever.


Contact Naisha Roy at [email protected].

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About the Contributors
Naisha Roy
Naisha Roy, Editor-at-Large
Naisha Roy is a second-year studying journalism and Spanish & Linguistics. She loves covering topics like immigration issues and NYU policies. In her free time, she's probably doing the daily crossword or cooking while listening to Taylor Swift. She loves spending her weekends finding cheap food spots around the city with her four best friends. You can reach out to her on Instagram @naisharoy9 if you ever need to rant about how AP Style doesn't use the Oxford Comma.
Aaliya Luthra
Aaliya Luthra, Art Director
Aaliya Luthra is a senior majoring in Media, Culture, and Communication and minoring in studio art and South Asian studies. As an artist, she enjoys creating illustrations and short animations for all the things she's passionate about. from music and pop culture to humanitarian crises. You can follow her art page @littleredbookillustrations to see more.

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    Stephen F PolniaszekApr 2, 2024 at 10:07 am

    Well written.