Study Abroad Tips and Tricks

Katelynn Groh—Well, I’ve officially made it through my first ever 3-week study abroad program. I participated in the Western Europe: A Documentation of Culture program that lasted from June 9th to June 25th. In those three weeks myself and 27 other students traveled to Venice, Florence, Rome, Barcelona, Paris, Brugge, and Amsterdam. Our days were jam-packed with walking tours and museum visits — on any given day we averaged anywhere between 14,000-32,000 steps/5-7 miles of walking. But, I have to say that it was all worth it. It truly was the experience of a lifetime, and I highly recommend everyone to do some type of study abroad program during their college years…when are you ever going to have that opportunity again?

That being said, I wanted to share some tips and tricks I learned along the way.

1. Outlets at hotels are far and few between.

I would suggest bringing a power strip in order to plug everything in. At one of our hotels we had one outlet for 3 girls. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a struggle.

2. Bring an empty duffel bag…

…to use as a carry-on on the flight home. This is for all the souvenirs and gifts you pick up along the way. I ended up buying so much stuff I had to go out and buy a large tote/duffel bag in order to get everything home and not go over my weight limit for my suitcase.

3. Pack a cross-body bag/purse.

I only brought my TravelOn backpack (more about these next) and had nothing to use when we went out to a nightclub in Florence, a show at Moulin Rouge, or when I just didn’t want to carry around my backpack. I asked my friends to carry my essentials (phone, wallet, digital camera) and felt terrible because it was taking up space in their purse. I highly recommend bringing something other than a backpack.

4. TravelOn Bags. 

These bags are built for people who travel to help prevent theft. These bags have steel cables running through the straps to prevent slash-and-steal theft; steel cable mesh to prevent burglars from cutting a hole in the bottom of your bag; zipper locks that require 2 hands to undo; and lastly, RFID protection to prevent people from getting valuable information off of any personal documents you have on you. Because I have such awful luck it definitely gave me peace of mind in cities like Barcelona where pick-pocketers are the worst. These bags are a bit pricey so you definitely need to weigh the pros and cons! I will say that a bunch of people on the trip didn’t have TravelOn bags and they didn’t get pick-pocketed…it’s all about being smart and aware of your surroundings. If you do decide to get one check out Amazon, they’re a lot cheaper there!

5. Packing 101. 

Pack items that are versatile and can be worn multiple times. During the trip we didn’t have access to a washer/dryer anywhere so washing clothes in the sink and shower became a thing if we absolutely had to. Also, bring some fancy clothes for the one or two nights that you’ll need to dress up for a show or a night out. Again, I didn’t take this into account and had to make do with what I had when we all went to a nightclub in Florence. If you forget to pack anything you can always stop at an H&M, Forever21, etc. (they’re everywhere) and pick up whatever you need. Us girls had to make a couple trips to those stores to buy more underwear (sorry if that’s TMI), warmer clothing when we were in Amsterdam, and leggings, because I forgot to pack those…!?!?!

Here are a few heads-up at some of the cultural differences between America and the rest of the world…

1. Toilet seats are a luxury. 

Or toilet lids? Whatever they’re called. Whatever we sit on, and guys have to lift up to go to the bathroom…yea, that! More often than not the toilets in Europe didn’t have them. It was really bizarre.

2. Cold milk and water aren’t a thing. 

I already knew Europe didn’t put ice cubes in their water, but the warm milk I was not expecting. That took some adjusting.

3. You have to pay to use the bathroom.

This is more in Paris, Belgium, the Netherlands, etc. Some people find it incredibly frustrating but it didn’t bother me too much. Usually it was 0.50 euros and it worked nicely at getting rid of all my coins that I had accumulated throughout the trip. However, the nice thing about paying for bathrooms though is that they are always super clean!

4. Don’t bring your iPad. 

I brought my iPad for the plane ride thinking I would use it to watch movies and oh how wrong I was. 9 times out of 10 the plane you’re on will have a huge variety of movies to choose from. And if you’re not watching a movie you’ll probably be sleeping. I brought my laptop to store my pictures and the like but about halfway through the trip I didn’t even touch my laptop. We were too busy during the day and when we got back at night we were all so exhausted that there was never any time.

5. You meet tons of new people. 

Whether it’s waiting in lines for the bathroom, museums, etc. people around you will strike up a conversation with you. Especially if you’re from the States. I was waiting in line for the bathroom with one of the girls on the trip and we were talking about how cold we were waiting in line for the Anne Frank house for 3 hours in the rain and the lady behind us overheard us and our accents and was like, “Oh you’re from the States? Where about?” We talked for a good 5 or 10 minutes, and that same scenario happens anywhere you go. It was really awesome meeting people from all over the globe.

Going to Europe has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember and to say I’m happy with the experience just doesn’t do it justice. One of my dreams just came true, how do I even put into words how I’m feeling!? Towards the end of the trip I was excited to come home, but now that I’m here I’m missing Europe, and more than anything, I’m missing the people I befriended along the way. We’re all in a group chat and my phone hasn’t stopped buzzing since we created the group chat in the first place. We’re already planning our next get together and possibly our next trip 😀 I found a quote that fits this trip perfectly and it says, “We do not remember days, we remember moments.” The people on the trip are what made the trip as spectacular as it was…and we have some pretty hilarious memories from it too 😛

Here are some pictures from Europe! Enjoy!

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Amsterdam! I loved the relaxed feeling here compared to cities in Italy. And the cooler weather was a huge plus! I could actually do my hair and makeup without looking like a drowned rat halfway through the day!

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Our first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower! We went back at night and saw it all lit up…it was beautiful. I even conquered my fear of heights and went all the way to the top. You could see all of Paris ❤

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Rome was the city I was most excited for and it did not disappoint! The fact that we were standing in the Colosseum where so much history took place was breathtaking.

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Roomies! I roomed with these two (Gina and Melissa) for the majority of the trip and did we have some good laughs. I can’t wait until we’re together again!

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We took this in one of the popular squares in Florence! I miss them so much! ❤

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All of the girls from the trip in front of Notre Dame! I was geeking out because the movie, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” was one of my favorites growing up!

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After we landed in Milan we had a 3 hour drive to the mainland just outside Venice. Then, we took a water taxi to Venice where we had our first gondola ride! It was pure bliss.

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The whole group in front of the I AMsterdam sign! Can we go back please?

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