study abroad

The Freshman 15: Tips for Studying Abroad

Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True

A much-needed gelato run on a hot summer day in Rome!

Exactly three years ago, I was having the time of my life in Europe. It was the summer before my senior year of college, and I had embarked on a short-term study abroad program focused on international events and festivals in London, Paris and Rome.

Rereading that paragraph, Post-Grad Val is incredibly jealous of College Val right now.

Studying abroad was an amazing experience, and my only regret was not doing it sooner and for a longer period of time. Once you graduate from college and begin working in the real world, finding time and funds for travel can be a lot more difficult, and you’ll find yourself wishing you followed your wanderlust when you still had the time and scholarships.

If you are currently in college and have a healthy thirst for adventure, you’ve probably already added studying abroad to your university bucket list. After all, it’s a great opportunity to travel the world and immerse yourself in a culture that may be different from your own!

For those considering studying abroad in college, check out my fifteen tips for choosing the right program and making the most of your experience.

The Freshman 15: Tips for Studying Abroad

15 Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True1. Talk to friends and classmates who have already been there.
One great thing about college is that you’ll likely cross paths with people who are either: a) well-traveled, b) from another country, or c) all of the above. Because of this, if you’re interested in participating in a language immersion program in Spain this summer, it’s likely that you already know someone who has been to Spain or participated in this type of program. Talk to those people and ask them questions about what to expect and how their experiences were. Chances are, they can give you a lot of information that you won’t read in the program description or travel guide book. If you can, try to get as much information as possible from a peer’s point of view.

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2. Evaluate your needs.
Before signing on to a particular program, think about what you’re looking for. Can you commit to a semester-long program, or would you rather do something shorter term? Do you want to receive class credit? Do you need a program that will fulfill an internship requirement? Ask yourself these questions ahead of time to help pinpoint the right program for you.

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3. Consider the costs.
Your program description might include a set cost, but does that cost include airfare, lodging, travel within the country, or food? Is the program part of a university course? Will you be paying tuition as well? Factor in all of these possible expenses when deciding if the program fits your budget.

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15 Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True4. Look at other colleges and universities in your state for options.
If your university doesn’t offer a program that interests you, another one might. Check the study abroad websites for other colleges in your state to see what programs they have and if the credits can be easily transferred to your school.

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5. Seek out scholarships.
Many universities offer study abroad scholarships for those who seek them. The trouble is, many students don’t realize that these scholarships are out there! Through a little research on my own, I was able to secure a small study abroad scholarship through one of the departments on campus. All you have to do is apply… worst case, you’re no worse off than when you started!

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6. Consider a program that relates to your major or career goals.
Studying abroad is an awesome travel experience, but don’t forget that a key part of studying abroad is “studying.” This doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be stuck in a classroom all day, but keep in mind that the study abroad experience should be educational. For the amount of money you’ll be shelling out, you probably want to look into programs that will either be applicable to your degree program (or grad school goals) in some way or that will make you more marketable in the workforce.

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Tips for Studying Abroad7. Research the country and its culture ahead of time.
It’s important to have some knowledge of the history and culture of the place where you will be living for the next few weeks or months. Not only will this help you to determine whether or not this program is the right choice for you, but it will also be helpful information for you once you arrive. Have a basic awareness of the country’s current events, its famous dishes and its customs.

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8. Learn the language.
Do I expect you to become fluent in French by the time you arrive at the De Gaulle airport? No. However, it’s important to learn some of the basics — hello, goodbye, please and thank you are a great place to start. My French is atrocious (I’m much more fluent in Spanish, but my French accent is only passable if I mumble), but every day, I made sure to say a cheerful “Bon jour” and “Au revoir!” to the kind staff members at the hotel where we stayed in Paris. Attempting to use the country’s native language is a sign of respect, and it makes you more of a gracious guest. Of course, some programs do require proficiency in the country’s language, so be aware of that when you compare programs.

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9. Get to know your program administrator.
Contact the faculty person in charge of the program before signing up with any questions you may have. This person has likely been through the program before, and he or she will be able to help guide you through the process or help you determine if the program is right for you.

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Tips For Studying Abroad | So it Must Be True10. Figure out your mode of communication.
This was something I neglected to do prior to my study abroad program, and it was a major source of stress for me. (It was also before I had an iPhone, so I couldn’t rely on WiFi and iMessage like the rest of my friends.) Talk to your family and figure out how you’ll communicate overseas throughout the program. Through email? International SIM Card? Skype? Determine the best mode of communication for you and your family, and figure out how you’ll get in touch in case of an emergency.

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11. City dwellers: don’t forget about transportation!
During my study abroad trip, I had metro passes for each of the three major cities I visited, and this was a huge weight off my shoulders! This allowed me unlimited travel throughout those cities during a set period of time, and it was definitely worthwhile for me. If you’re staying in one city for long, consider investing in metro passes as well. It will make life a lot easier.

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12. Call your credit card company beforehand.
As a financial services professional, I’d be crazy not to mention this one. Make sure your credit card companies are aware of when you will be out of the country so that they don’t freeze your accounts while you’re away! I made the mistake of booking Versailles tickets online while I was still in the states, and found that my account was frozen almost immediately after for suspected credit card theft. Make sure your financial institutions are aware of your whereabouts to avoid any mishaps once you leave the country – it will be a lot harder to solve these problems away from home!

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15 Tips for Studying Abroad | So It Must Be True13. Have an open mind.
Study abroad is the perfect time to experience things for the first time. Order a meal you wouldn’t normally try, explore the city’s cultural centers and historical sites, and get out of your comfort zone! Immerse yourself in the culture. After all, when will you get another chance to do so?

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14. Document everything!
Whenever I travel, I cannot be found without my trusty digital camera. During my study abroad trip, as well as during a separate trip to Israel a few months prior, I took pictures of everything! At night, I used a notebook to keep track of what I had photographed, as well as to journal my experiences and feelings thus far. I also blogged a bit during my study abroad trip (see here, here and here). Remember to take tons of pictures, and feel free to blog about your experiences as well! Years later, I still enjoy looking back at those photos, journals and blog entries to relive those amazing trips.

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15. Believe in yourself.
I know this sounds cheesy, but bear with me! While I loved my study abroad experience, one of my biggest regrets in college was not taking a summer-long internship opportunity in London. The main reason I didn’t fully pursue that program was because I feared I wouldn’t be able to get around the city myself and I doubted my ability to navigate. When I finally did visit London for the first time, I learned how to use the metro very quickly, and immediately regretted my decision not to participate in an internship there. Whatever doubts are holding you back from a program, cast them aside and just go!

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What questions do you have about studying abroad? Any tips or resources? Share yours in the comments section below!

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved In Rome

Remember that time I studied abroad in Europe, then posted blogs about my adventures in London and Paris? During that time, my group and I also enjoyed a brief Roman Holiday! (Saying that makes me feel so much like Audrey Hepburn.) The last few days of our trip took place in Rome, Italy, a city rich with history, culture and delicious food. Although we didn’t spend nearly as much time in Rome as we did in London and Paris, I still had some memorable experiences that I will share with you!

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved In Rome

1. The Colosseum.
I have my minor in Hospitality Management, so of course I’d look at the Colosseum as the ultimate event venue. (Yes, that’s me in the picture.) Although it was not my first time visiting the Colosseum, I had a newfound appreciation for this arena as I thought about all that took place there in ancient times. The Colosseum is one of Rome’s most recognizable icons, and definitely worth a visit for anyone making the trip to Rome. You can take a self-guided tour and admire the Colosseum from different vantage points.

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2. Roman Forum.
Walk through the ruins of the Roman Forum, the plaza where Romans met to exchange goods, deliver public speeches, and much more. The Forum is located near the Colosseum and is even home to Julius Caesar’s memorial site. As you enter the Forum, think about how it must have looked in its prime, and visualize yourself in this once-bustling city center! Because of the proximity of these two sites, I would suggest visiting one right after the other — preferably early in the day, before it gets too hot!

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3. Trevi Fountain.
Toss a coin over your shoulder into the Trevi Fountain and make a wish! Legend has it that by throwing a coin into the water, you will be guaranteed a return trip to Rome. Regardless of whether or not you do decide to come back someday, visiting the Trevi Fountain is definitely a worthwhile experience if not for its beautiful architecture alone. I have been to the Fountain twice — once in the evening, and once in the early afternoon, but after my second visit, I would suggest going early. However, no matter when you decide to go, be sure to watch closely over all of your belongings — my classmates and I had to be especially careful about pickpockets in areas like this. The Trevi Fountain is beautiful, but it can also be overwhelmingly crowded, so keep an eye out while you take pictures and hold on tight to your bags.

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4. Pantheon.
From the moment we arrived in Rome, the Pantheon was the number one place I wanted to visit. I had learned about this former temple to the Roman gods throughout my early education and even in my university’s art history class, and wanted to see it for myself. The Pantheon is located near the Spanish Steps (which my friends and I didn’t realize until after we wandered around nearly half of Rome looking for it! :) ) and is free for the public to visit. The area may be somewhat crowded, but you won’t have to wait to get inside and walk around. Don’t forget to look up at the ceiling and admire the dome above you! It’s interesting to see how the light enters the Pantheon from there. (Now that I’ve been here, I’m dying to go to Greece and see the Parthenon, built for the goddess Athena!)

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5. Gelateria della Palma.
I’d be lying if I said that the Italian cuisine wasn’t one of the trip’s highlights. Everyone raves about gelato when they visit Rome, so I thought I’d mention my favorite gelato place, Gelateria della Palma. (See here!) The place was filled to the brim with tourists, but it had more than 150 flavors to choose from, and was a great end to my trip. This gelato shop is located near the Pantheon, and is a wonderful way to cool down in the summer heat. My flavors of choice? A scoop of chocolate and a scoop of stracciatella (kind of like chocolate chip). My classmates and I definitely didn’t shy away from the gelato while we were here, but this shop was by far the best!

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Other notable visits included the Vatican, Piazza Navona, Vitti (a restaurant with the most delicious food, best service and cutest waiters throughout our entire time there), and the Spanish Steps.

To my readers: What do you want to do when you go to Rome? If you have already been, what sites do you suggest for visitors?

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved in Paris

Bon jour, readers! For those who are wondering, yes, that’s me in the picture, standing in front of the Eiffel Tower on Bastille Day. :) (More on that later!) As Part II of my study abroad trip to Europe, my classmates and I spent a week in Paris, where we filled up on carbs, brushed up on our merci‘s and au revoir’s, and visited some breathtaking sites throughout the city.

Although I had been to Paris twice before (at ages 15 and 16), my experience this summer was unlike any other. This week, I’ll share five of my favorite attractions and memories from my most recent visit, and my recommendations for those who plan to travel to Paris in the future. Share your own experiences in the comments section below!

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved In Paris

1. Musee d’Orsay.
When it comes to famous works of art, everyone tells you to visit the Louvre when you’re in Paris. Now, I’m certainly not knocking the Louvre — you could spend days in there before you’ve seen everything! — but I found during my most recent trip to Paris, I enjoyed Musee d’Orsay even more. Orsay houses some amazing impressionist works, and you’ll have the chance to see paintings by Monet, Manet, Renoir, Degas, van Gogh and more. The building itself is a work of art, formerly the Gare d’Orsay railway station, and is also home to plenty of sculptures, photography and other media.

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2. Palais Garnier.
As a huge Phantom of the Opera fan, I always love visiting the Palais Garnier — the famous opera house that served as the backdrop in the original novel. Located near some of the high end Parisian shopping (Galleries Lafayette), the Palais Garnier is beautifully decorated and absolutely worth a visit. One of my goals is to eventually see a ballet or an opera there, but until then, I’m happy peeking into the auditorium and snapping photos in the venue’s various rooms. An added bonus is that Box Five is actually “reserved” for the Phantom… you can look at the box’s inscription to see for yourself! Even if you hated the book/musical, you’ll still appreciate the opera house’s gorgeous architecture and interior.

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3. Boulangerie Tour.
One morning, a smaller group of us visited a bakery called Le Petit Mitron, thanks to a tour we booked on Viator prior to leaving the States. For the next hour or so, we learned all about how bakeries produce croissants, pain au chocolat, and baguettes — and we had the chance to make our own! We had a very passionate baker and tour guide/translator, who both made the experience fun and interactive. Although I’m not much for food and beverage, I loved having the chance to create my own signature on a Red Label baguette, and I was very proud of my croissant-rolling skills! At the end of the visit, you get to take home a few creations for free.

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4. Tim Burton Exhibit at the Cinematheque Francaise.
My fascination with Tim Burton and his work probably began when I was three years old and Nightmare Before Christmas had come out. A lot of people will criticize his work nowadays for being too much of the same, but there’s something to be said for the dark worlds he weaves together (usually with the help of Helena Bonham-Carter and Johnny Depp), and I’ve always loved his cinematic style. That’s why I was very excited to see his work being exhibited at the French Cinema Museum, where they include early drawings and stories, notes from various film scripts, sketches of characters, short films, costume pieces from some of his movies and even the famous scissor hands that everyone knows from Edward Scissorhands (one of my all-time favorite movies). The exhibit will give you a deeper insight into Tim Burton and his work, and is definitely worth the visit.

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5. Bastille Day.
If you are ever planning a trip to Paris in July, Bastille Day (July 14) is a very exciting day to do it! Because it would have been difficult to attend the Bastille Day parade and have a decent view of everything, we decided to watch the parade from our hotel television… but little did we know that the jet fly-bys on TV would soon occur right outside our window! After the parade, we went to the Eiffel Tower for a bird’s eye view of Paris. But the best part of the day? Sitting on the lawn of the Eiffel Tower (pictured) for the remainder of the afternoon with friends, waiting for the fireworks show to begin. I don’t know when I’ll be back in Paris, but watching the fireworks with so many thousands of people from around the world was such a wonderful experience, and I know I’ll have to do it again someday.

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To learn more about my study abroad trip, read my last blog post about London! Tune in next week to find out what I loved in the third and final city of my tour.

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved in London

As some of you may know, I am currently in the middle of a three-week study abroad program in Europe. Our group consists mainly of event management and hospitality majors, and one of our objectives on this trip is to visit various cultural events and venues in each country and reflect on those experiences. We left our first destination, London, a few days ago, but in spite of the less than desirable weather conditions during our stay, many of us fell in love with the city.

Throughout my time in Europe, I will be documenting some of my favorite attractions from each country on my blog. This will not be a full recap of everything I’ve done or enjoyed in these countries, but rather a list of some of the highlights. A few other awesome things I did in London include snapping a picture at Platform 9 & 3/4, riding around in a double decker bus around the city (which I highly suggest doing no matter where you travel), standing in Piccadilly Circus, walking around on a Jack the Ripper tour, and visiting the Tower of London.

So, for those of you heading to London in the near future, here are five places and attractions I highly suggest!

The Weekend Five: Things I Loved in London

1. Buckingham Palace.
First of all, how many times do you get the chance to visit a real working palace? Buckingham Palace — home to the Queen of England — is beautifully decorated and rich with historical value. Several of my classmates and I reserved our tickets ahead of time to tour the state rooms and ballroom, where ambassadors and other distinguished guests have come to visit, and to walk through the gardens. This year was also the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, during which she celebrated 60 years at the throne, and so the palace displayed the tiaras and jewels of several English monarchs throughout history (including the tiny crown of Queen Victoria!). if you visit before October, you can see the Diamonds Jubilee exhibit in Buckingham Palace for yourself!

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2. Zoo Lates at the London Zoo.
On our second night in London, several of us attended an event called Zoo Lates, in which the London Zoo stays open from 7-10 p.m. and provides food, drinks, animal masks, live entertainment and access to visit many of the animals. Right away, we realized we were some of the only tourists at this event, as we noticed attendees in full animal costumes who seemed to have been to Zoo Lates a few times before. I love going to the zoo, so being able to go to a party at the zoo was awesome. (Yes, I’m a nerd.) Attend this event if a) you love animals; b) you need a break from some of the touristy stuff; or c) to see how some locals might actually spend a Friday night (aside from at a bar).

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3. Brighton Pier.
Brighton is about a 50-minute train ride from London, but well worth the trip. A small group of us traveled out to Brighton for a watersports festival, and wound up enjoying the rocky beaches, carnival events, restaurants and thrift shops that the city had to offer. We also discovered the palace of King George IV and had a wonderful time walking around there. For a scene a little different from the typical London streets, go to Brighton Pier. If you’re visiting the U.K. with a significant other, this is also (in my opinion) the perfect date location!

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4. British Museum.
A fan of museums, I had to go to the British Museum – I had heard all about it in my art history class as a freshman, so it was exciting to see the ancient Greek and Roman works I’d studied so hard. I also had the chance to see the Rosetta Stone! This museum is free to the public and runs on donations. If you are a museum person, then you won’t want to miss out on this.

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5. Olympic Infrastructure Tour.
With the Diamond Jubilee just behind us, and the Olympics coming up in less than two weeks, It’s a very patriotic time to be in London. Because my group is focused on the events and meetings industry, the Olympic Infrastructure Tour was a great way for us to learn about the way that huge sporting events are run and how cities can bid to be home to the Olympics. Because of certain restrictions that apply closer to the date of the event, we were unable to visit the actual grounds where the events and ceremonies will take place, but we did receive a tour from a very knowledgeable guide and we were able to view much of the infrastructure from a lookout point. It was an interesting way to learn about the Olympics and their overall effect on the surrounding community!

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If you have any questions about any of these attractions or want to learn more about my adventures in London, feel free to drop a comment or share your own suggestions for future visits!

Bon Voyage!

Hello everyone! :)

You may have noticed a lack of blog posts in the last few weeks. That’s because I’m getting ready to leave for a very exciting study abroad trip! My Internet usage will be limited throughout the month of July, but I hope to be able to share some of my adventures with you.

In the meantime, have a safe and happy Independence Day!

Valerie