A Letter to my Friends as we Start “Junior” Year-Abroad

Dear Friend,

You’re going abroad!  Congratulations, I’m so excited for you.  This is going to be an amazing experience and one you’ll remember forever.  It’s going to be hell and it’s going to be paradise.  You may be wondering what I’m doing offering you some advice right now, after all, I am about to embark on my year abroad just like you.  I too am in the midst of freaking out about visas, accommodation and language barriers.

But I’ve studied in England for two years now.  I would like to think that I have learnt a couple things about living and studying outside of America.

First off, let me say: the weather will be different.  This seems like a shocking thing to say, after all, I am sure those of you traveling to Spain are looking forward to sun and warmth and those of you going to England are looking forward to temperate weather.  As exciting as it may seem, new weather takes some getting used to.

The sun will set later in the summer and earlier in the winter.  It might be warmer and it might be colder, but no matter what this will take some getting used to.  Just remember, it’s all temporary.  You can complain when you get back to the states.

Please, I beg of you, make friends with the locals.  Americans may be good and they may speak your language, but you are abroad to BE ABROAD.  That means talking with everyone.  No matter how odd their accent, no matter how hard it is to speak another language.  As long as you smile and tell them you are American, you’ll have something to talk about.

But, theose people who can only talk to you about being American?  Forget them.  Make friends with the people who you would be friends with at your home university.  They are there, I know they are.

On that plane ride over, SLEEP ON THE PLANE.  Close your eyes the second after take off and don’t open them up for anything until you begin your descent.  It will be so much easier to face a new country and to face customs if you are well rested.  Eat a good meal before boarding because plane food will not fuel your travels.

Hopefully, you will have an easy time getting your visa.  If you are working with England, enjoy the journey.  It’s so easy, you’ll be shocked.  There’s a place on Lexington to get international passport photos taken, just don’t laugh if a small asian woman comes out from behind the counter to take your photo.  You’ll have a mug shot to deal with for a year.

If you’re going to Italy, well, let’s just say that I’m right there with you.

In movies, the year abroad takes a couple moments.  L’Auberge Espagnole, which you really should see, distills the time abroad into two fun hours.  Real life doesn’t happen like that.  The days will be long.  Don’t get bogged down in the little details, everything will work out. From where you are staying, to your travel plans to understanding a new university system.  You won’t know overnight, you can’t know overnight.  Enjoy the work and enjoy the play.  Enjoy them in a good harmony.

So you’re getting ready to pack your bag, wondering whether or not to bring toothpaste with you (don’t) and hugging your family.  Savor this time, you’ll remember it forever.  Take photos and keep  in touch.

Good luck and happy travels.  I’ll see you on the immigration line!

Cheers,

Emilia

Have you ever lived abroad?  If so, what advice would you give?  If not, would you want to?

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