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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine March/April 2001
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Study Abroad
Student to Student

What Your Study Abroad Adviser Will Not Tell You

There are some things you might want to know before you go abroad that your school’s study abroad office is not going to tell you. It’s not that they’re trying to keep you in the dark—far from it! You’ll be bombarded with information until you feel you know more about your destination than Colin Powell does. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Clothes. You’ll have this “rule” driven into you: don’t bring too many clothes because they take up space in your luggage and you’ll find you don’t really wear them all that much. This is misleading, to say the least. It’s possible to bring too much stuff, but it’s equally possible to underpack, especially if you’re going to Europe. Americans tend to dress casually most of the time: jeans and T-shirts are standard on college campuses across the nation. Europeans, however, will dress up at the drop of a hat. Talk to students who have been to your destination and ask them what you’ll need.

Relationships are one of the biggest problems for those who study abroad. If you’re in one, be aware that it might not survive your trip. It’s very hard to keep things going over long distances. Moreover, it detracts from your study abroad experience; you’ll miss out on a lot of terrific things if you spend all your time pining for your significant other. So, before you go, consider cooling things off. It doesn’t have to be permanent; if you return and decide to reunite, the relationship will be that much stronger for it.

Sex, too, is something you should put some thought into. Come prepared with condoms or birth control pills and don’t take any really stupid risks. Don’t feel you have to live up to the “easy American” stereotype.

And don’t be surprised if your preconceived notions about sexual manners are totally off. England, for example, is often thought of by Americans (read me) as a nation of prudes—stiff upper lip and all that, right? It’s not. And if you’re a young woman in France, don’t be shocked if you get propositioned in a grocery store. (It’s still a shock even if you’ve been forewarned. I mean, American women don’t expect to hear, “I will let you use my body any way zat you want! I cannot wait to see you lie on my satin sheets!” from a total stranger in the produce aisle. I didn’t anyway.)

One other thing you’ll want to consider well—even if you’ve heard plenty about this from your adviser—is finances. Do whatever you have to before you go to be able to cover every conceivable expense: work overtime, take out student loans, whatever it takes. And though your adviser might tell you it’s a bad idea, look into taking a part-time job while you’re overseas; at the very least, there’s no harm in checking the visa requirements before you go. Many students find it a great way to see another side of the culture . . . and the extra cash doesn’t hurt.

Finally, readjusting to life in the U.S. is tricky. (If you haven’t heard that from your adviser yet, get a new one.) But you’ll get past it, and you’ll find you have a much greater sense of your place in the world than you did before you left.

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