Making the Most of Your Study Abroad Experience

4 Tips for Making the Most of Your Abroad Experience

August 6, 2015
  1. Double-Check Your Directions
    “While traveling in Europe, I realized I was on the wrong half of a train leaving Switzerland. I needed to go to Frankfurt, but the half I was on was headed to Milan. I jumped off the moving train and then—surprise!—had to rush back through border patrol before dashing through the station to jump onto the already moving half of the train headed in the proper direction.” Susan Lafky
  1. Find a New Perspective
    “While I was walking on the Great Wall of China in seven inches of snow, I looked down and watched snow removal from the roads below. Instead of giant plows or even shovels, snow removal in China consists of multitudes of men sweeping with brooms made of sticks.” Kelly Sokol
  2. Never Make Assumptions
    “When I was a high school student studying abroad in Spain, I was thrown out of a Madrid restaurant for using a South American word for ‘waiter’—and I mean literally picked up on each side and escorted to the sidewalk. My friends from the local neighborhood explained that I was just a silly American (probably didn't use the word ‘silly,’ exactly) who was not purposefully being rude and got us back to our table. This experience has served as a great reference over my years of teaching for highlighting the importance of regional vocabulary variations and the importance of learning in authentic cultural contexts. I never forgot those distinctions, to say the least.” Beth Gaunce
  3. Be Careful What You Order
    “When at a small, local restaurant outside Barcelona, I ordered a lunch entrée based solely on my recognition of the Spanish word for pork. Imagine my surprise—not pleasant, I’m afraid—when gelatinous pig’s trotters appeared before me!” Stacey Rainey
  4. Keep an Open Mind
    “I attended a worldwide conference in the former East Germany for teachers who were non-native Germans. There were some of us from ‘the West’ but attendance was overwhelmingly from Eastern bloc countries. One day, my roommate and I invited all the women from our floor for coffee and cake, the German equivalent of England’s tea and biscuits. I sat next to a Russian teacher named Lia. Sine we were a bunch of educated women with no language barrier, the discussion—of course—went to politics, specifically, which country was worse: the USA or the USSR. At one point, I turned to Lia and said, ‘I think our countries share the ‘most hated’ prize,’ and she nodded. We clinked our coffee cups in understanding. There were no hurt feelings, just the understanding that we could be honest with one another, equalized by our love and use of a common second language, German. It was wonderful and special and the most meaningful experience of my life.” Susan Lafky

Enjoy these stories? Share your own traveling tips and experiences in the comments below.


Gabrielle LeBihan
Gabrielle LeBihan is a marketing intern at Middlebury Interactive Languages. She is currently a student at Nazareth College and hopes to graduate with a degree in Communications and Rhetoric, with minors in Spanish and Peace and Justice. In her free time, Gabrielle can most often be found running on the roads and trails of her hometown, Brant Lake, New York. Gabrielle also enjoys cooking, reading and playing the cello.
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