Bettina Acosta studied abroad at Hochschule Heilbronn in Germany in Spring 2017. Here are her tips for students considering study abroad.
Studying abroad was a fulfilling experience containing many first. It was my first time on a plane, traveling to a new country, and making friends with different origins than mine! Studying abroad may be a nerve-wrecking experience, but by sharing my experiences, I hope to ease your nerves.
“I miss home.”
Homesickness can happen. You may miss a major event or a special holiday. Five months may be the longest time you have ever been away from your family. I am so happy we live in an age of advance technology. You may be abroad, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep in contact with your family. You can use email, Facebook, Whatsapp and other tools to stay in touch. While I was in Germany, a close friend got married. I was able to talk to her before her wedding and I watched clips on Snapchat of the event. If you travel to a country that doesn’t permit Facebook or Instagram, research what apps can be used. Before you go abroad, familiarize yourself and your family with those apps so you can stay connected. I video chatted with my mom and grandma every couple of days. There were moments I stayed up until 2 am to speak with them, but it was worth it to have a small piece of home.
“I don’t have the money.”
A major concern that I hear from fellow students is study abroad is too expensive and they don’t have the funds. There are many scholarships that are specifically for study abroad. I received the Baden Württemburg Stipendium, which is for students studying abroad in Germany. This funded majority of my trip. Apply to scholarships that you come across. The International Program Center can provide you with additional resources about funding study abroad. Although I did receive a scholarship, I still needed to budget my funds to ensure I had enough money for rent, food and other necessities. Each month, I reviewed my budget and made sure I wasn’t spending excessively. If you plan to travel throughout your country and possibly outside your country, I suggest also creating a budget for your trips. This is very helpful! Keep in mind you may not stay in the most luxurious hotels, but at least you will have a place to sleep after your long day of exploring.
“Will I be safe?” “What about my health?”
Before going to your chosen country, research the safety of your area. Look up places you should avoid. Pick-pocketing can be very common in Europe, especially in major tourist cities. When I traveled to cities such as Paris, Berlin, and Barcelona I was very cautious of my money and important documents. While traveling, my phone was never visible and was always locate at the bottom of my bookbag, making it difficult for pickpockets to take. I always had money in my shoe, my bookbag, and kept money at my hotel. If someone decided to steal, I would still have money to get back to my hostel or apartment. In addition, always carry multiple copies of your passport and keep it in a safe place. If I was traveling alone, I always returned to my hostel before night fall. There are many tiny precautions that you can take to avoid potential dangers.
As far as health, I did encounter a few unfortunate health issues while I was in Germany, but I didn’t allow it to damper my experience. I have Rheumatoid Arthritis, so I traveled with important medications. Those of you that have medication, take them with you and keep them secured. There were challenging moments, but I combated them by taking my medicine on time, and by understanding my body. So, if I had a really bad day, I would just rest. Stay in-tune with your body! If you have health issues, factor that in when choosing your country. Consider the resources that country has like health insurance and potential cost. In Germany, I knew that the health care was cheap and easily accessible, so if I had any issues I would have support.
“I may get lost.”
Getting lost is not the end of the world. As soon as you have arrived at your chosen country, you will not know where you are going. You will not know the people. You will know nothing but that you are in a foreign country and not in the US. After I landed in Stuttgart, Germany, I needed take two trains to get to Heilbronn. I missed the second train and had to purchase a new ticket. I was frustrated, but that quickly passed because frustration wasn’t going to make the situation any easier. There have been many instances while traveling when I discovered the most beautiful places while getting lost. Don’t miss out on those tiny details of a city due to rushing to a destination. Soak up what the city has to offer block by block.
“I don’t speak the language.”
I had studied German for a year and a half before going. My broken German was very helpful when speaking to taxi drivers. It was also an advantage when grocery shopping and locating items in the store. You don’t have to know that country’s language. I encourage you to know polite phrases, such as hello and thank you. Those word will be very beneficial with locals. Learn a little about directions and signage. People are open to giving you assistance. In Europe, English is widely spoken. So, if you have to do something important, such as locate your train, someone can assist you. Google Translate is also helpful, but does not provide a perfect translation.
“How will I adjust?”
Before visiting your county, do as much research as you can about the culture. Speak to people from that country or who have traveled there. Put in effort to adapt to the culture – your trip will be so much more rewarding. Don’t try to force the American culture to fit that country. You will learn about things that you take for granted or wish could be found in the U.S. I had to make several adjustments for things I wasn’t even expecting. For instance, when I went grocery shopping I walked to the store or took a bus. I had to bring a reusable bag to place my items in when I cashed out. The cashiers moved quickly when scanning my items and I had to bag them. I always played a game with myself. I tried to bag all my groceries before the cashier asked for my card, I was successful only twice. I didn’t realize free water and free restrooms were a luxury. When I went to restaurants, I had to pay for bottled water and restrooms were 50 cent Euros. Always keep change for the bathrooms in Europe. Familiarize yourself as much as you can. Sometimes those customs can be frustrating, but take a breather and keep in mind you are there to learn.
I hope I have eased some of your worries about study abroad. I encourage you to schedule an appointment with the UNCG International Program Center. This is the office that will guide you through your study abroad experience. Don’t let fears prevent you from stepping out into the world!
by Bettina Acosta