door to the world

Student Tips for Success

Safety

  • Don't explore the city with headphones in! You're less aware of your surroundings safety-wise and are closing yourself off from truly interacting with the place you're in.
  • Always keep your most valuable items (phone, passport, keys, wallet, etc.) on the front of your body where you can keep an eye on them. Keeping these items in your front pocket or a cross-body purse puts your valuables where you can see them. Pickpockets won’t be able to steal these items without you immediately noticing. 
  • Be adventurous but trust your gut. If it feels wrong, it probably is!
  • I liked getting the notifications from the embassy about when to stay out of the capital because of protests or something. I was glad that I registered my trip with the embassy, or that I did whatever you have to do to get those notifications.
  • If you don’t feel well, tell your program and host family ASAP--I was hospitalized for a day but this could have been avoided if I had told someone earlier.
  • One of the biggest things I did was walk with confidence, even if you don't completely know where you're going. Sometimes, I’d also draw out a map ahead of time so I wouldn’t have to pull out my phone in town.  It definitely makes you less of a target.
  • Wearing a wedding ring made me feel safer.
  • Don't walk on the street or outside with an iPhone or expensive gadget in hand or earphones in your ears (it makes you seem distracted and easy to target and may attract muggers).
  • Become acquainted with shopkeepers and locals on my commute from home to school, so that if anyone tried doing something sketchy, people would know me and hopefully help me out.
  • I liked to have a lightweight scarf in my bag for tossing over my shoulders or head and covering me up a bit when I felt too exposed.
  • Always carry a rifle and flare gun when traveling in polar bear territory.
  • Make friends with the locals!
  • Get a cell phone plan from the country you are in as opposed to buying international coverage from the US. If you have international coverage from the US, you can call your friends with local plan but your friends can't call you, making it incredibly difficult when trying to find each other in a public place or during a state of emergency.
  • Don't walk on the streets after dark, even with a group, unless it's a short walk and necessary.
  • Make it your first job to find someone you can trust, tell them things that make you feel weird or unsafe. If they diminish it, find a new person.
  • Seriously try not to walk alone at night unless streets are well lit with people. If any doubt, spend the extra money to take a taxi.
  • If I felt unsafe in a sketchy cab, I would begin talking on the phone with someone (or even pretending to) so that the driver would be aware that someone knew where I was.
  • When taking a taxi (especially at night), make sure the taxi driver sees you taking a photo of the license plate. You can even text it to someone.
  • A great tip if you’re in a city where you don’t have cellphone service is to preload maps on your smartphone while you’re still on wifi. For iPhones, the phone still tracks your location, even once you’re off wifi, and can keep you from getting lost.
  • My piece of advice would be to embrace the adventure in everything and relish not knowing what each day will bring.

Money

  • Find out which places will break big bills---some smaller stores, taxis, buses will not be able to. I usually used would break big bills at fancy grocery stores and restaurants and kept smaller bills to pay for things at smaller establishments.
  • Cook as many meals for yourself as you can.
  • Feel free to have fun, but limit yourself to going out. A night in with friends is a great way to celebrate the weekend.
  • Seek out the best cheap places to eat with friends in your program/embrace your inner chef.
  • It's hard to know what the time to splurge is, but there will be a few purchases that are worth spending on. Budget so that you can buy that one special item. That being said, my most treasured study-abroad purchases are the demon-be-gone charms that I bought at a temple for $10. You never know! 
  • It can be helpful to have a weekly amount that you try not to exceed. 
  • While abroad, it’s good to think in terms of the currency there, instead of in dollars. This way, you can save money while also being considerate of people around you and how they value the money you are using.
  • Make a spreadsheet before you leave to keep track of what you spend day by day, that way you know exactly what you have spent at any given point and don't have to guess.
  • I found that I had to figure out the ATMs by trial by error whether it was from my own experiences or other American students' experience.
  • I smuggled a jar of peanut butter in my suitcase, and it was one of the best life choices I've made. Do it, if you are at all a lover of peanut butter. That stuff is expensive in Europe.
  • Bring more than one credit card as it may randomly be declined for no reason.
  • Getting familiar with and used to what is an absurdly high price in the local currency is a great way of using your natural instinct of budgeting. It was good to remember that in any country overpriced is overpriced.
  • If you can't use a dining hall, plan out how many times you want to cook or go out, I spent way too much money on food because I just didn't really think about it.
  • Don't be afraid to spend money on good food. You have to eat. Don't be in a bad mood because you're eating poorly. 
  • Eat with your host family often! It's a wonderful way to get to know them, your host country and the culture better--and it's free!
  • Be educated on how expensive each destination is, including where you choose to study abroad. I didn't think much about how much more I would be spending here than my friends in other places. 
  • If you're going abroad, start saving now….like RIGHT NOW.
  • Get a credit or debit card with no international fees so you don't lose money just for making transactions abroad. The Bank of America Travel Rewards credit card is an example--it worked great for me and I was able to easily monitor my funds and pay bills with online/mobile banking.
  • Documentation: write down what you spend money on; cataloguing my purchases has helped me reduce mindless spending and keep track of my finances while abroad. 
  • Get an international credit card with no international fees for all purchases.
  • Limit how much you eat and drink out to once or twice a week. Instead of going out, invite friends over to split the cost of a homemade meal instead. Don't buy soda or water at restaurants--water especially is not always free.

Travel

  • You should know that something will go wrong. You will miss a flight or a train. You'll misplace money. You'll get lost. But each apparent disaster is an opportunity to make an experience that much more memorable. Go to a new city. Take the scenic route. Learn how to cook a local dish at home. Buy a new wallet. Just keep going-you'll be glad you did.
  • One way I reflected on my experience while in the midst of it was by collecting maps...I got visitors maps of every city or town I visited and marked the sites I travelled to on the map. This way, at the end of each trip it was easy to lay out the map and understand the expanse of the city and how much of it I was able to get a feel for.
  • Explore the city where you live! Even though you want to go to travel throughout Europe, enjoy your home base.
  • Make sure you have a good understanding of how expensive the places you visit are….I spent 2 to 3 times as much on a day in Venice than I did on a day in Prague.
  • Know at what time public transportation stops. This can be found online or at the station. Even in a big city like Paris, the last subways are just before 1 am.
  • Always know how to get home (preferably several ways to get home) from wherever you are, without relying on technology. My phone broke so I was phoneless for 2 weeks and my normal train route broke down in the middle of the night so it was very challenging to find my way home!