For Global Engagement Day, I attended the session entitled “Stories from Abroad.” During this session, I got to hear about personal experiences several upperclassmen in the GEF program had. These students — Jacob, Ben, and Linda are the names of the people I’ll be discussing — represented a diverse group of people who studied in very different places, and they all had amazing advice and tips to share with us.
Jacob started us off, explaining that he had spent a month in Madrid with a host family over the summer. He loved being abroad and connected a lot to his host father, who spent time with him, introduced him to the local people and his friends, and taught him how to cook a few dishes that Jacob still enjoys cooking now. His main tips were to practice the local language in the months leading up to your experience abroad if you’re planning on trying to speak the local language. Jacob advised utilizing podcasts and especially local newspapers, since that will also give us an idea of the current situation of the place we’re going to study abroad.
Jacob also reminded us how important having your passport is, citing the his story of leaving his passport in his bag in the trunk of the taxi while on the way to the airport to fly home as something specifically not to do. While Jacob managed to get everything figured out and fly home at the end of his stay in Madrid, I’m definitely taking his warning seriously and making sure to know where my passport is at all times!
The last piece of advice that Jacob gave us was that while it may be scary studying abroad, you have to trust in yourself, and that you will do a lot better than you think you will.
Next up was Ben, who had studied abroad in Germany last semester. He spent a lot of time traveling around, venturing out to see France, the Czech Republic, England, Barcelona, among other places. Ben said that student discounts on tickets, especially bus tickets, are the way to go when you are a college student abroad with limited financial means. Some of his favorite experiences though weren’t even traveling to frequently tourist-y places. He had a great time going to soccer and cricket matches, and he said that festivals, any kind of festivals, are an absolute delight!
Linda was next, and she mentioned that she spent a summer in Ireland, but the focus of her presentation was a semester she spent in Estonia. This was of particular interest to me since I am looking to spend a semester abroad in Eastern Europe. Her time in Estonia was well spent budget-wise, but she said that it was a little isolating, being so far away from her support system of family and friends. As long as we have a line of communication to someone back home though, studying abroad is definitely worth it! She also really wanted to emphasize making sure that we have our class equivalencies done before we go abroad because trying to figure everything out after the fact is just more trouble than it’s worth.
Because the language barrier was so wide for Linda in Estonia, she had find many creative ways to spend her time. She said that exploring is great, but to make sure you see your own country too. You don’t need to go across the continent to see wonderful places and meet great people.
While Linda meant for this to be a piece of advice for whatever country each of us end up visiting when we go abroad, I also felt that it could apply very well for me for Norman Oklahoma. I have not done very much exploring of the town, and it could be that, while I’m waiting to see the world, there is adventure waiting right here for me right now.