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Living Abroad (instead of vicariously through social media)

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We’ve all seen it. The beautiful lakes of Interlaken, Switzerland. A stunning group of co-eds in Barcelona’s Park Güell. Sunhats and sunglasses frolicking through the ancient architecture of Greece. The look of contemplation in response to Prague’s Lennon Wall.

And we can’t wait to be the one raking in hundreds of likes for our own Instagram/Facebook/vsco post.

If, by my introduction, you believe I claim to be above posing in the thermal baths of Budapest, I assure you I am far from it. I have been there. I have filtered those very baths. I believe I used Valencia…but it may have been Lo-Fi. Can’t remember, but dang, if it wasn’t an aesthetically pleasing image once I was through with it.

The true purpose of this post is to explain the necessity of breaking out of the mold of the study abroad experience perpetuated by social media and acknowledging that your most precious moments in a foreign land can and will happen when your iPhone is tucked away (hopefully somewhere really safe ~because pickpockets~).


Instead of photographing your meal, Yelp it.

I really cannot stress this one enough. Yeah, food can be beautiful, and if you don’t have a picture of pommes frites in front of the canals, did you even go to Amsterdam? As much as you may feel as though you’re brimming with knowledge regarding the local cuisine, I believe that I can speak for all of us when I say that I would be appalled to discover that an international student’s only hamburger was from McDonald’s. Venture to the world of Yelp, where people from around the world have given their 200 characters as to which local restaurant has the best pasta, tartar, or churros.

Wifi password? Try talking to each other.

This was the surprising response I received from a charming Scottish waiter in Glasgow (FYI, it really was the password). Though unsettling, it was unforgettable advice. Restaurants, shops, and even museums offering free Wifi can be a mouthwatering offer when you’re on the no-data grind, but if you wouldn’t be checking your texts at a restaurant at home, why would you do so when you’re partaking in “cultural immersion”?

Rather than trying to place a check mark by every country on the map, Czech into your host city.

Ha…see what I did there? But I really cannot stress this point enough. I have heard so many crazy stories about “11 countries in 10 days,” or traveling every single weekend to a different city; they sound amazing. Still, I feel as though sleeping in on a Saturday in your own apartment with your roommate and having a quiet weekend wandering your host city is when you feel the pulse of another culture. Outside of the bustle of the workweek, you can laze away your weekend like a true [insert nationality here] without the pressure to see every single tourist site another country has to offer.

Don’t compare; contrast.

Scrolling through XYZ feed, you will see people that seem happier/better-prepared/more carefree than you feel, especially during your first few weeks. You might think you’re doing something wrong, or not trying hard enough to throw yourself into the study abroad experience that you have heard so much about. I encourage you to not fall into this trap—after all, no one is going to post about the time they got on the tram system (3 times in a row), or was pickpocketed by a bus stop, or had a bad case of Italian food poisoning. They’re only going to share their best moments, just as will you. Contrast the moments that you choose to share with your peers with the confident knowledge that the majority of your best—and worst—moments are those that cannot be edited.

This is my (in my opinion) expert study abroad advice. Hope you will find all of these to be true and make your own memories!

Madeline R. is a CEA alumna. She studied abroad in Prague, Czech Republic in the spring of 2015. 


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