Student Blogs & Vlogs | College Study Abroad Programs, IFSA-Butler

Pre-Departure Advice… For Myself

Time January 10th, 2017 in 2017 Spring, Wales | No Comments by

Hello, and welcome to my little blog of adventures. My name is Alex and I’m a sophomore from Drake University studying abroad in Cardiff, Wales. I leave in two days but that hasn’t really sunk in. I’ve started to say goodbyes, I’ve begun packing, and I’ve also managed to come down with a horrible cold (great timing, too). And although this week feels like every other week, I am about to embark on a journey that will change my life in a profound way that I won’t be able to understand until it has already happened. I think that’s pretty neat.

The past days, weeks, and months have been filled with preparation. But one thing that every student about to go abroad gets lots of is advice. Those who have studied abroad before you will tell you about how incredible their experience was, what you should do when you’re abroad, and of course where you MUST visit. I love hearing what everyone has to say about traveling—I’m a sponge when it comes to taking in travelling tips and knowledge. But I also want to go into this experience with my own goals and some pieces of advice for myself. So here is what I have to say to the future me that’s about to board a plane into five months of uncertainty and excitement:

It’s okay to cry at the airport when you leave your family, just for the love of God make sure you’re wearing waterproof mascara.

Be frugal and wise with budgeting but don’t freak out about money the whole time. It’ll work out just fine.

Take that trip to Greece that you keep saying you will. You packed that swimsuit for something and it’s not just to take up space in your suitcase.

Drink good wine. Eat good cheese. And bread. And pasta.

Try weird local foods that you probably won’t love but it’s all about the experience amiright?

Do something crazy like bungee jumping or cliff jumping, just don’t tell your parents until after you’ve done it and survived (sorry mom and dad).

Speaking of mom and dad, give them a call every once in a while to make sure they know you’re alive.

Buy little souvenirs for yourself and loved ones.

Visit friends who are abroad in different countries, even if you only get the chance to meet up for lunch.

Take pictures. You suck at this. You brought a camera for a reason. USE IT.

Write down things in a journal because no matter how memorable an experience feels, details will become blurry once you’ve been traveling for five months.

Make friends with people from other countries!

And finally, have a blast because you’re only 20 years old in Europe once ya crazy kid.

This post marks the very beginning of a life changing, comfort-zone pushing, and challenging experience. I have no idea what my life is going to look like in a few days–your guess is probably just as good as mine. I hope you stick around to see how it all plays out, it should be an interesting few months!

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Traveling Tips: Things I Wish I Knew

Time January 4th, 2017 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

Hello all,

I’m currently writing from Chicago, Illinois as I have returned home after my absolutely wonderful semester abroad. After my Michaelmas term at Oxford ended, I spent two weeks traveling around Europe with my friends. Prior to studying abroad, most of my traveling was with my family. It is an entirely different experience to travel with peers. There are many important decisions to make and rather than simply following my parents, it was on me to determine the best course of action. Prior to my semester abroad through IFSA-Butler, I would have considered myself a novice traveler. However during my study abroad experience, I saw eight different countries, navigated the public transportation system of foreign nations, and learned to communicate despite language barriers. I honestly learned just as much while traveling as I did during the academic term. The following are some tips that I noted during my adventures:

  1. Know the measurements of your suitcase. Even if your suitcase is always allowed as a carry-on for various American airlines, it may be too large for certain European airlines. Either take a picture of the original tag of the bag or look up the exact suitcase online and write down its exact measurements. Additionally, while traveling it is really important to fully understand the luggage requirements of the specific airline. Sometimes the flight may be cheaper but they may charge for carry-on luggage and with the extra charger, that flight may become more expensive than the second cheapest option. Another important thing to consider is that it is often cheaper to purchase baggage online rather than at the airport, so if you expect to pay for your bag try and pay for it earlier rather than later.
  2. Bring locks. Locks are really useful if you plan on staying in hostels because many of them have lockers available. I brought a lock for my suitcase (that is TSA approved of course) and one for my backpack. One of the biggest tips I received was to be wary of pickpockets so whenever I traveled I kept everything locked. Then when I arrived at our hostel, I would take the lock off the suitcase, put the suitcase inside, and then use the lock for the locker.
  3. Carry a filtered water bottle. First, look up whether your country’s tap water is safe for drinking. If I determined that tap water was safe, I would fill up my Brita-filtered waterbottle. This was not only convenient for having water on hand, it ended up being a cost-saving measure. I found that many restaurants would only provide bottled water and they will subsequently charge to your bill.
  4. Don’t overuse the currency exchange. It is important to remember that every time you exchange currency, you are losing money. I found that in the beginning I was overestimating how much cash I would need at each location. It is really helpful to get a credit card that does not have international transaction fees. I figured this out prior to leaving the U.S. and found it incredibly valuable. With this kind of credit card, I learned that I really did not need too much cash. By the end of my trip I was only taking out a little bit of cash and reserved it for things I knew I couldn’t pay for with card such as cabs and small food stands.
  5. Protect your passport. While I advise against carrying your passport everywhere, I also advise against leaving it in anywhere that might not be secure. If the hostel I was staying at had a locked locker, I felt comfortable leaving my passport. Otherwise I kept it within an zipped inside pocket in my jacket. It is definitely the most important thing you have and by far the most difficult thing to replace. A good rule of thumb is that at any point in the day, any day of the week you should be able to say where your passport is currently located.
  6. Google Maps is great for public transportation. Using public transportation is such a great way to save money. Furthermore, it is much easier than I ever anticipated. Google Maps worked in every city I was in and I found it to be incredibly accurate. Additionally, I found that in places such as train stations and bus stations it is relatively easy to find someone who speaks English and they can tell you exactly what kinds of tickets to purchase. Google Maps not only tells you which bus or train to take, it also tells you the time it will arrive and when the next one is coming. Furthermore, you can download a city to your saved “offline” locations and then you can use Google Maps without any wifi or data.

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7 Mistakes I Made as an American in England

Time October 17th, 2016 in 2016 Fall, England | No Comments by

I thought going to an English-speaking, Westernized country meant “culture shock” would be minimal. I could not have been more wrong. The differences between England and the U.S. are too many to count and I have had my fair share of uncomfortable experiences. Today I share with you 10 instances in which I really felt like a confused foreigner in hopes that you will learn from my experiences.

1. Not looking both ways (or the right way) when crossing the street: I remembered that they drive on the opposite side of the road here when I got into my taxi at the airport. It was so strange; I felt like the entire car ride I was slightly leaning to the right as if my body weight would move the car over to the side that I normally drive on. While I would never EVER attempt to drive in this country, I failed to realize that this difference in road movements affects me even as a pedestrian. I will be the first to admit that sometimes I lack the patience to wait for the “WALK” sign at a crosswalk. If I see an opportunity, I usually decide to cross. This has proved to be a dangerous habit if you look the wrong direction in search for cars. In an attempt to avoid the national health service, look both ways before crossing the street.

2. Yellow light does not always mean stopping: Along the same lines of different road rules, here in England (and I have heard this applies to other European countries) the stoplight uses yellow on two occasions: before red AND before green. So if you’re like me and you see a yellow light as essentially the go-ahead to begin crossing, this is also another dangerous habit. Unless you were watching the stop light for awhile prior to know which color is going to follow the yellow, it is not safe to assume that the car is stopping. On a slight tangent I think the use of yellow to essentially mean “get ready to _(stop/go)__” is really interesting and I wonder whether it was added or if the U.S. eliminated it.

3. Bikes are just as dangerous: My final advice to fellow pedestrians is to be wary of cyclists. In my hometown people who bike are usually doing so recreationally – some in the sidewalk and some in the street. Here biking is an entirely different ball game. It is an efficient form of transportation and they are ruthless. My eyes widen as they weave around massive, double-decker buses and as they speed right towards me coming down the street. I have not seen it myself, but my friend told me that today he witnessed someone get hit by a bike and just hearing about it made my body ache. Treat bikes with the same vigilance as you do cars (and honestly maybe more because since they are smaller they can easily sneak up out of nowhere) and hopefully that won’t happen to you.

4. Be cognizant of operating hours: Unlike in the U.S. where things are open 24/7 for 7 days a week, most businesses in England have much more limited operating hours. Stores close much earlier and Sunday evenings are a ghost town. I discovered this the hard way when my friend and I got a late dinner and wanted to grab some dessert sweets from a grocery store on our way back. Our chocolate cravings were sadly unfulfilled as we walked past the dark doors of every store. At the same time stores do not always open as early either. It is completely normal for a store to open at 10:00 am as opposed to the 8:00 AM or 9:00 AM that I consider normal back in the U.S.

5. Mind your manners: This tip is more applicable to Oxford students. While it varies amongst colleges, most Oxford colleges have some sort of formal dinner. At St. Catz we have the option to go to a formal dinner (called “hall” short for formal hall) every weeknight. While dress code is completely casual, the dining etiquette is more refined. You sit in these long tables with attached desk lights, which almost make you feel like you should be studying. Every seat must be filled by top to bottom, so you can easily be seated next to a stranger. There are waiters, multiple courses, and you can BYOB. Something very important about hall is learning the etiquette. Luckily, the people I was seated next to at my very first hall informed me of all the rules before I broke too many of them. A notable rule is that you cannot eat until everyone around you has received their food – something that I wish I had known before I started inhaling these amazing potato wedges.

6. BYOB (with the second b standing for bags): Because England is much more advanced in terms of environmentally-minded rules and regulations, it costs money to purchase plastic bags at the grocery store. During orientation I attended the freshers fair/activity fair/clubs and societies fair where different student groups try to recruit new members. After the event I had 3 different canvas bags which have all been repurposed into grocery shopping bags. Even though the plastic bags are cheap, it is much easier to carry groceries in a sturdier bag. Sometimes when I know I’ll need a substantial amount of groceries, I go with an empty backpack. Depending on where your college is, the walk to the grocery store can be over 20 minutes and it will feel like more than that if you have plastic bags digging into your arms.

7. Don’t be offended if people aren’t outrageously friendly: This is something I learned at orientation but also experienced first hand on my way there. I took a quick train from Heathrow airport to central London. As one would expect, I was bursting with excitement and wonder. The train was pretty full, so I placed my luggage in the racks and sat in the closest open seat next to this man. I turned to him to ask if the train went to Piccadilly and his eyes opened so wide. He nodded twice – silently. I didn’t fully realize this was probably him telling me that he was not interested in talking to me, but my excitement was so high that all I could do was look out the window. I made some remark about how beautiful the city looked, how it was my first time in England, and how I’m so eager to begin my journey. He looked at me with a slightly bewildered look on his face. I asked him if he had any recommendations on what I must do while I am here and he responded with, “Not particularly.” At that point the train was arriving in the station, but I had gotten the message. This man was not interested in having any sort of conversation on the train. After an orientation lecture on cultural differences between the U.K and the U.S., I was informed that making small talk with strangers on public transportation is a very American habit. People in the U.K. tend to be more reserved in public and do not consider a train ride to be a social experience. So don’t be confused if the person you sit next to does not want to be your best friend or offer to be your tour guide, it’s not personal.

 

I apologize for writing another “list-icle”. I promise my next blog post will include pictures of campus now that I am here and really settling in for the season.

 

Cheers,

xx

Zaya

 

 

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Advice

Time November 30th, 2015 in 2015 Fall, College Study Abroad, England, First Generation Scholars | 1 Comment by

Advice, such a wonderful concept, but there is always something left out, something that may be important to you but not to someone else.

Packing: pack light, I guarantee that you will see something you have to have and buy more clothes here (especially if you’re a girl who likes to shop). I brought 5 or 6 shirts with me, I have doubled that.

Shoes. Do NOT bring 50 million pairs of shoes. Bring shoes that are comfortable for walking in, because you will be doing a lot of walking. Also, make sure you have at least one pair that is water proof or you are going to have wet feet a lot. If you LIKE to hike and plan to do so here, then it’s good to bring hiking boots. I’ve barely worn mine even though they were recommended on the packing list. Hiking always seems to be optional, so the footwear is also optional.

Another one (which may or may not be weird) but if you are particular about your personal hygiene products, like deodorant, bring it. They have many things to offer here but they are NOT the same as what is available in the US.

Bring a raincoat. With a hood. Umbrellas are great, but I gave up carrying mine after the wind turned it inside out a couple times. Sometimes it just isn’t worth the fight. If you worry about your hair, believe me, everyone else will be just as windblown as you.

 

Shopping – be prepared to go to more than one store. They do have Asda, which is like Walmart, but with not quite as much variety. Other than that, groceries, medicine, and clothing/linens are not generally sold in the same place. Also, different stores have different varieties depending on how picky you are. However, the variety of stores are usually located geographically near each other, probable because they don’t threaten each other’s sales. Either way, shop around for the best deals and ask the locals for tips. Usually, the other college students can tell you the best places to shop for particular things for cheap.

 

Academics

I’m fairly independent to begin with, so I haven’t struggled as much as some others with the course load here. As a short-term student (only 1 semester, and Autumn term) all of my lecturers provided me with a longer or another essay for my course assessment. Be prepared to write.

Also, pace yourself. Don’t procrastinate until the last minute for your essays. The only other real homework I have received for my classes is reading and being prepared to discuss and critique the material assigned. Start the research part of your papers early or the amount of reading to find papers with usable material is evil. And if you do leave it, you have no one to blame but yourself for the workload. That research reading is what everyone else means when they tell you that you’re expected to research and read on your own.

Classes: whatever you do, do NOT miss seminars. Not all of your classes will take attendance and sometimes you want to go to lecture when you’re sick. But no matter how bad you feel, it isn’t worth missing seminar. Seminar is where you get to APPLY what you’re learning. The seminars are usually much smaller and allow you to interact more with the material.

 

I think the most important bit of advice, especially for those of you who are close to your family and friends, is to have fun! This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. You get to study in another country. Stay in touch with your family and talk to them as much as you need to keep homesickness as bay, but also immerse yourself. Canterbury, England in general, has so much to offer and explore. Take advantage of the opportunity you’ve been given. Do your schoolwork, but explore when you can. You never know what friends you’ll make and what amazing places you’ll see until you try.

Like visiting the White Cliffs of Dover with the friends I made here…

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Advice for future students- Part 1 (Orientation 1)

Time March 23rd, 2015 in 2015 Spring, College Study Abroad, Costa Rica | No Comments by

Hey everyone this is my first post that I am doing for future students of IFSA of things I think would have been helpful to know during my experience.  I am hoping on doing a few of these posts through my time here, hope you find them helpful! Read More »

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