Studying Abroad Part 2: When in Rome...

Studying abroad is an incredibly enlightening experience enhanced by preparedness and respectful traveling. This article will give you the framework to have the best travel experience possible.

By Xavier Royer — November 16, 2022


Studying Abroad Part 2: When in Rome...

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do." — St. Ambrose (More or less)

Studying abroad can be exciting, but there is an art to making the most out of the trip. While most students have an excellent experience, some make faux pas that throw a wrench into their excursion. This article will provide practical advice for undergraduates going on their first trip out of the country.

Know your Itinerary

Spontaneity can be fun, but planning is a must, particularly for first-time travelers. Travelers should learn their travel plans backward and forward and plan their trip well in advance. Often, travelers (not just students!) make the mistake of not only under-planning but also over-planning. Under-planning has obvious drawbacks; transportation is much harder or more expensive to acquire daily, and many popular experiences may be sold out or otherwise unavailable. Over-planners, on the other hand, will fail to provide themselves flexibility. One missed or late bus can often have a domino effect that destroys an entire day's worth of experiences. My advice to students is to intentionally plan a few activities in their downtime. Lack of planning here leaves plenty of time to get to and from their destinations. Arriving early and having time to kill will likely be welcome on a day full of activities.

Know your Limits

Many students enter study abroad with a sense of adventure and lose many of their inhibitions, which is great for the most part. While I will always encourage trying new things and broadening one's horizons, there is a point where one must exercise caution. One mistake is taking too much advantage of lowered drinking age in many countries. The United States drinking age is twenty-one, which is much more prohibitive to undergraduates than in other countries, which often set their limit at 18 or even lower. This means that those American underclassmen have easy access to alcohol in a country and culture that is completely new to them. Whether a student takes advantage of this is up to them. However, be careful. If students go out, they should go with a group they trust and stay together.

Know your Surroundings

New cities and countries will naturally be unfamiliar, and students should know and remain aware of their surroundings. This is not to say studying abroad is dangerous, but rather that it is easier to end up in unsafe situations by accident. For example, the best way to get around London is far and away the Tube, which is the underground rail system. I highly recommend using the Tube for anyone visiting the city. Yet, Americans must be mindful of pickpockets, who will actively target foreigners as they will have a naturally more challenging time working with law enforcement. If students plan on venturing into new areas of their host city, they should gather information to ensure they end up in a safe part of the city while also planning two ways to return. It is always best to have a backup plan if that bus does not show up.

Know the Culture (and your National Reputation)

This last piece of advice is mainly directed at my fellow Americans but will be relevant to everyone to some extent. When traveling somewhere new, it is imperative to remember you are the weird one. This is a feature of studying abroad, not a bug, as this feeling leads to incredible growth. Everywhere students go, they should remember that they are guests, and whatever the locals say, goes. Americans are particularly notorious for forgetting this fact and forgetting that some things allowed in the States are not allowed elsewhere. By all means, enjoy the city. Be especially aware that there are cultural quirks that must be heeded. At best, ignorant travelers may come off as arrogant or rude; at worst, they may land in complicated legal trouble. Should a student accidentally run afoul of a cultural norm of the host country, they should try to be gracious, humbly apologize, and correct the faux pa as best as they can.

Mini-Tip: Know How to Fly

International travel can be complex, but a few things can improve the experience of airports andflying.

  1. Think about security checkpoints when packing, this will make customs and travel more efficient.
  2. Drink water on the plane — a lot of it. Flying dehydrates you. If students plan on drinking alcohol on the plane, do not overdo it. A little goes a long way at 36,000 feet.
  3. Get your passport months in advance. Those offices take time to process, so account for that.

Studying abroad is an incredibly enlightening experience enhanced by preparedness and respectful traveling. Do not think of this advice, which I know may come off a bit curmudgeonly, as limiting. Instead, think of this advice as a framework to enable the best experience possible. Students should enjoy themselves; much easier done when executed responsibly.

Xavier Royer

Xavier Royer

I am currently a full time instructor at a William Penn University, a small private university in Iowa. I am the lone political science faculty member there. In my time teaching, I have already connected with an incredible cohort of students in ways I could never have expected. Partnering with SAGE will allow me the opportunity to help even more students across the globe navigate those tricky questions.
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Studying Abroad Part 2: When in Rome...
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Studying abroad is an incredibly enlightening experience enhanced by preparedness and respectful traveling. This article will give you the framework to have the best travel experience possible.