Spend enough time googling and you will find pages upon pages of blog posts full of packing tips and experiences while studying abroad. How do I know? Because I’ve read a nice chunk of the thousands of posts out there. So I thought, why not one more? Brush off those notebooks because here are 10 facts and fibs about studying in Europe.
Let us start with some facts…
1. You will learn to worship the three free “W”s : free washrooms, free water, and free WiFi.
Ask ANYONE who has traveled Europe, and these are words to live by. 0.75 Euros to use the toilet (YES they call it the toilet) adds up. Especially when you are using the facilities because of the 3 Euro bottle of mineral water you HAD to purchase. Top it off with the phrase “Excuse me, what’s the WiFi password?” and that right there is your typical eating out experience in Europe.
2. 1 Euro wine does exist, along with 5 Euro cases of 24 beers.
Grocery stores are your new happy place. Yes, the cheapest wine may come from a box… but don’t judge a book by its cover. Brace yourself for the new reality that it’s often cheaper to order a glass of wine at a restaurant than it is a glass of water.
3. Go ahead and start that blog or journal – just expect to only make two posts…
We all said we would and we all had the genuine intent to. Don’t hate yourself if by the end of your travels you only have 3 photos and a paragraph to show for your literary efforts. You’re going to get caught up traveling or doing crazy things with crazy people from crazy places. My advice: take a shit ton of photos. Whoever started the “a picture is worth a thousand words” idea was onto something. You’ll remember your experiences AND be able to write about them after.
4. Tripozo: the most valuable thing aside from your passport.
The greatest travel app to grace app stores to date. Tripozo lets you download “maps” for basically any and every travel destination for free! Each map comes with suggestions and ratings for restaurants, hotels, nightlife, and attractions. The app provides information about the city, key facts and a map that uses offline GPS tracking to help you navigate. Pretty clutch when you have no cell phone and no WiFi… Did I mention it was free?
5. Prevent pickpocketing – PAY ATTENTION.
Yes pickpocketing happens, and it does happen often. At least a dozen of my friends were pickpocketed during our time abroad, from cell phones to passports the saying “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone” is definitely valid. Yet how did I, quite frankly an idiot, manage to beat the pickpocketers? Simple, be alert. Constantly be looking around when on subways or buses. Zip your pockets shut, hold your purse. I can confidently say that another positive to not having a phone was that I was never just mindlessly scrolling my news feed while on the train, I was paying attention to my surroundings. And as a result, fighting the war against pickpocketers.
6. The savior of Exam SZN (and no it’s not Red Bull) : Resits.
“Man, I wish I could write this exam and then if I failed, have a chance to write it again without my mark being penalized.” I bet you’ve had that thought. Well guess what, you can and most European schools offer their students the option of completing a RESIT.
7. People will think you’re American…Americans will pretend they are Canadian.
Aside from our excessive apologizing and the apparent way we pronounce “bagel”, or “tour”… most strangers will ask if you’re “from America”. That wasn’t the shocking part though. What will be surprising is their rush to apologize when you say you aren’t… I’m not offended, relax. People have quite an unfortunate stigma about Americans, so much so that my best friend would pretend to be Canadian in awkward-travel situations. Not going to lie…she got the “eh” part pretty down pat.
8. You don’t need a cell phone. Yes, that says “don’t” as in DO NOT.
I survived 8 months in Europe without one, much to my mother’s dismay. I mean sure, for safety reasons, it would have been nice, but think about all the money I saved on data. European phone companies will often give you a free SIM card, but it’s more common for people to buy data (and then repurchase once it’s used up) than to have an actual monthly plan.
9. Blah Blah Car. No seriously, that’s the name of the company.
Look it up before you bash it! Blah Blah Car is an awesome ride sharing site, particularly clutch when hopping between cities within the same country.
10. Buy the largest megabyte SD card possible, because that will be as valuable as your passport.
You’re going to take a gazillion photos, and embrace those super touristy moments because guess what? You now have enough profile and cover photos to last a lifetime (or at least until your next adventure).
So now that you know that truths, let’s clarify some fibs…..
1. Traveling throughout the semester will be SOOOOO cheap.
Sure, I flew to Norway from Belgium for 9 Euros once, but flights like that are infrequent, at odd times and between small airports (usually 1-2 hours away from major city centers). Sure your flight may still end up being 50 to 100 Euros round trip, but just don’t forget to factor in the cost of the shuttle to and from the airport (which can add up). As for other modes of transportation, trains and buses are options. However, expect to pay triple for that scenic train ride, or brace yourself for what will inevitably be the most uncomfortable 20+ hour road trip of your life.
2. “I promise I’ll Skype you every single week…”
First off, Skype sucks – the connection is inconsistent. Try Whatsapp or Facebook messenger, both allow you to message but also voice or video call (3 cheers for technology). As for finding the time to do so…life happens. You’re going to be busy and so are your friends and family. But at the end of the day, they will still love you when you make your grand return. My parents had initially wanted me to FaceTime them every Tuesday…. Let’s just say that by the time month 4 rolled around we were working off a “send me an iMessage sometime this week to let me know your alive when you get WiFi” basis.
3. My long distance relationship will survive because we are SOOOOO in love.
Ha ha ha ha. I don’t mean to offend anyone in a long distance relationship when I say this, but the odds are not in your favor. While studying abroad, most of my friends that were in a relationship when they arrived either ended their relationship or had cheated on their partner. Not because they were un-loyal, awful people, but distance sucks. It’s hard to be living this fairytale lifestyle and find time to routinely video call your partner back home. And when you do, there’s nothing worse than the “So how have you been?” situation which results in you listing the 18 cool things you’ve done in the past 72 hours and them saying they went to class…again. Food for thought; don’t break up with someone because you’re going on a long-term trip. Just keep in mind that distance requires effort which requires time. You may not be as motivated to meet new people and put yourself out there if you’re worried about making it back in time to call the GF/BF/WHOEVER. Last point, I swear. When you put a group of university students in a confined area with copious amounts of alcohol and entertainment night after night, shit is going to happen.
4. Postcards, letters, or any traditional mail.
Buy postcards to collect, but expect to take out a mortgage if you want to send them all. Mail from Europe to North America ain’t cheap…google postage rates if you don’t believe me.
5. Culture Shock – it’s across the pond not across the universe.
My school put a lot of effort into preparing us for culture shock the second I stepped off the plane, when the reality was I didn’t feel like a fish out of water once. Europeans have a more laid back lifestyle; they take time to appreciate the little things in life. But truthfully, the most negative culture shock experience I has was my favorite coffee shop chain was non-existent overseas.
6. I’ll just use ATMs, or have my parent’s wire me money.
Two Words: Service Fees. ATMs sneak these on to every withdrawal, and if they happen to offer a service that is free, you best bet that the exchange rate for your transaction is definitely not the best rate going. As for having money transferred to you, that also comes at a cost. The easiest alternative is to open up a temporary bank account in the city where you are studying. If that isn’t an option, try transferring a large sum of money to a relative/friend/whoever that lives in Europe and have them order an additional debit card for you. At least then you will have the option to withdraw money at a fraction of the cost.
7. Any hair appliance box that reads “works while abroad”.
Your blow dryer is not going to work. Bold, underline, italicize it, whatever. Don’t waste your money on straighteners or curling irons that promise they work with travel adapters and converters. THEY AREN’T GOING TO WORK. It is just easier to take that money and spend it on a cheap, temporary alternative once you’ve arrived in Euro-land.
8. “I’m studying abroad in France, so you know I’ll be fluent in French of course.”
Learning a language requires a ton of effort…something that may not be at the top of your list between traveling and still managing to pass all of your courses. To top things off, don’t be offended if locals are reluctant to talk to you in their native language. It’s easier for them to just communicate in English, especially if they’re from a major tourist destination. Having to playing a game of charades to interpret a sentence can become real old real quick.
9. Wow, health insurance is so expensive and I’m not even going to need it.
European health care operates differently in each country, and attempting to understand it is a headache in itself. Save yourself the misery and buy a plan that will keep you covered. Speaking from experience, prescriptions and treatments add up quickly, and of course are never expected. Still skeptical? I’ll leave you with this. I ended up paying 300 Euros for a urine test that ended up having “inconclusive results”… After already paying for 3 doctors visits and multiple prescription drugs. Do the math.
10. I’m never going to see my travel friends again.
FALSE, FALSE, FALSE, FALSE. Friendships are just as much about effort as they are the distance. You are going to meet AMAZING people; that is not up for debate. You are going to share AMAZING experiences and as a result, develop friendships VERY DIFFERENT from your friendships back home. With all that being said, it may seem more heartbreaking than your true love breaking up with you when all of your buds go their separate ways at the end of your travels. However, technology allows people to stay in touch, and planning trips to meet “halfway” is not only feasible, it gives you something to look forward to and save for. Life is about purpose, and what’s a better motivation to pick up that extra shift than the fact that it’s one step closer to covering your ticket to Australia?!
This list is by no means exhaustive, but take these tips and hop on a plane because studying in Europe is probably the best thing that could ever happen to you.
Feature Image via Alex Duffield.