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What Your Adviser DIDN’T Tell You About Studying in Europe

Group in Prague

So you decided to study abroad in a European country. Are you feeling overwhelmed by this decision and all the information you’ve been given? Never fear! We have you covered.

While your advisor is a wonderful resource for all things study abroad, here are five things your advisor didn’t mention in your pre-departure orientation:

1. Europeans Don’t Actually Hate Americans

Before I went abroad, I was under the impression that I had to hide my American identity. It seemed like a better idea to play up my Irish looks and heritage, than admit I held a US passport.

However, regardless of which country I was in, people were always interested to hear that I was from the States. They were curious as to where I was from and why I was there, and always so pleased that I decided to travel to their city and learn about their culture. I also learned that your nationality's not always so obvious to others and that my American accent sometimes was mistaken for British or Irish.

Regardless of what country you’re from, it’s important to be respectful of your host culture and perhaps attempt to learn a bit of the native language.

This isn’t to say that I think American students should go abroad and flaunt their “Americanness” (it's pretty annoying to see Americans try to make their study abroad experience in Europe like America). Part of study abroad experience is to immerse yourself in another culture and see how others live. Regardless of what country you’re from, it’s important to be respectful of your host culture and at least attempt to learn a bit of the native language.

At the same time, another important part of studying abroad is sharing your own culture with your host family or new study abroad friends, so don’t be afraid to be yourself.

2. DO Go to McDonald’s

Paris Mcdonalds

I realize that going to McDonald’s may count as “flaunting your Americanness.” I’m also pretty sure my study abroad advisor told me to never, ever go to McDonald’s abroad, because what else screams “I’m an American”? or "I'm avoiding cultural immersion"? But hear me out.

McDonald’s does this nifty thing where they cater to the local culture and culinary preferences. They feature menu items that you wouldn’t find on an American Value Menu, but give you a taste of the country you’re visiting.

For example, when I was studying in France, I was obsessed with goat cheese. Sometime mid-semester, McDonald’s offered a goat cheese burger. I couldn’t imagine a more delectable combination. Not only did it live up to my expectations, it provided a way to try a type of food I would never eat at home.

3. Ride the Rails

Between Ryan Air, Easy Jet, and every cheap airline site out there, it would be silly not to fly to other countries. It’s easy on the wallet and saves you a lot of time.

However, there's something to be said about taking a train. Europe has these fantastic high-speed bullet trains that travel up to 200 MPH. They’re an incredibly unique experience, and also fabulously comfortable. Taking a train also allows you to view the country you’re visiting. What better way to see the countryside than by riding through it? You don’t get the same view from the sky.

There is something to be said about taking a train... They're an incredibly unique experience, and also fabulously comfortable.

With numerous discount train passes available to students, taking the train might be less expensive than finding a flight (psst, if you're in Spain, read our travel budget tips while studying in Spain.) Or, if you’re like me and forget to book a flight, a first class train ticket is cheaper than what any budget ticket site can come up with last minute.

4. Plan Meticulously

Group in Rome

You’ll most likely be able to take an extended trip around Europe, whether it be for a semester break or if you decide to stick around for a few extra weeks after your semester ends. With the amount that there is to see and do around Europe, it is highly recommended you take the time to plan out your trip.

By sitting down and planning an itinerary, you’ll be able to save money by researching travel options. Is it cheaper to go to Rome first, then Florence? Or should you go to Florence, then Rome? If you’re traveling with friends, you’ll want to sit down and discuss what you want out of your trip.

I spent a 10 day trip traveling around Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic with one of my best friends from college. She was adamant about visiting Berlin, which had never piqued my interest. But we added it to the itinerary, and I fell in love with the city. Turns out it was a good thing for both of us that she advocated so strongly for visiting Berlin!

So, while on your trip, I would recommend you sit down each night and discuss what you want to see and do the next day. With so much to experience, it’s important that you plan your time wisely.

However, with the importance of planning being covered, I would like to bring you to my next point…

5. Know When to Throw Out the Plan and Be Spontaneous

If you remain too wrapped up in your schedule, you may miss out on some incredible experiences. Take the time to talk to locals and other travelers. They have the insider knowledge you crave and can’t find in some guidebook.

If you remain too wrapped up in your schedule, you may miss out on some incredible experiences.

Group in EdinburghRemember to have a good time!

While on that aforementioned trip with my friend, she discovered we could take a round trip from Munich to Salzburg for 15 euro, and it would only take an hour and a half to get there. We left our bags in Munich, hopped on a train, and explored Austria for an incredible day.

Another time, I received a tip from a fellow traveler in Ireland. There’s a ferry company that would provide a round trip to the Aran Island of Inis Mor from Galway, as well as a night in a hostel on the island. Again, Inis Mor was not on our original itinerary. But this tip was too good to pass up, and I now list Inis Mor as one of my favorite places I’ve been.

Be spontaneous in your host city as well. Check out the free event section of the local paper, and talk to fellow students at your university to find out how to try something new. Be open to meeting new people. That group of strangers you meet out one night may become close friends, who may invite you to tag along to their own get togethers.

And one last bonus tip your advisor forgot to tell you: Relax. You’re about to embark on an amazing experience, and will only be able to enjoy it if you allow yourself to be present in the moment. Bon voyage!

Photo Credits: API Study Abroad and bizmac.

Photo of Kaitlyn Nolan

Kaitlyn is twenty-something obsessed with study abroad and is constantly plotting her next trip. She can usually be found exploring her home city of Boston for new things to do or practicing with her Gaelic football team. Connect with her through Twitter or on Google+.