The Nervous Traveler’s Guide to Survive Studying Abroad

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Miranda Powers (center) poses in front of Stonehenge with other students in the Summer in London study abroad program. (Photo courtesy of Morgan Steward)

By MIRANDA POWERS
Contributing Writer

Studying abroad is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so the time students spend so far from home is regarded as highly valuable. My study abroad experience was limited to four weeks in June. On the weekends I had fantasized about traveling to Amsterdam, Brussels, Dublin, and Copenhagen. Constantly stressed about earning good grades in my class while also preoccupied about trying to visit the entire European continent in one short month, I became overwhelmed. I found myself constantly messaging friends who had studied abroad before, asking for their advice. But, rather than advice, what I really wanted was someone to comfort me and tell me it was all going to work out. I wanted to hear stories where they went through the same things I was going through and how they managed to make it through. I wanted a source of comfort from a friend for the traveler who is overwhelmed in London and needs someone to say “it’s all going to work out.” That’s exactly what this is: the nervous traveler’s guide to figuring out how to survive studying abroad.

Don’t be afraid to be spontaneous. I am an individual who likes to have a plan—I like to have lists that I can follow and check off exactly what needs to be done. However, I have learned from my time abroad (my trip to Copenhagen in particular) that sometimes plans fall through and you need to adapt to these changes quickly. Izzi Duprey, Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) ’20, mimicked those sentiments. Her advice? “You’re going to go in with expectations, but it’s better to be flexible. You might not be able to do some of the things you wanted to and you might end up doing things you didn’t expect, but they’ll be some of your best memories.”

This might be the only chance you have to experience life abroad, don’t be afraid to make the most of it. Even if that means spending more than you had planned. Thomas Zachar’s, FCLC ’20, study abroad experience has been both unexpected, yet rewarding in more ways than he saw coming. Most recently, Zachar was able to find tickets, though very expensive, to “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” the day before the show. Zachar lunged at the opportunity, even while he was two hours outside of London, to see the show he had been talking about seeing since stepping off the plane at Heathrow. While talking with Zachar between parts one and two of the production, he confidently expressed to me that, “if you have the ability to do something and you can afford it, you should just do it!” Zachar believes that no expense should be spared for once in a lifetime opportunities.

Traveling alone is not as scary as it seems. For Karalee Rogers, Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) ’19, plans she had originally fell apart and as a result Rogers became a traveler more independent and confident than before. After Rogers was too sick to go with her friends to Copenhagen, she switched her ticket for the next weekend to Barcelona. As Rogers’ friend, I was apprehensive about her going away by herself. When she returned, she happily told me “your time abroad is really what you make of it. Traveling by myself was an amazing experience that I’ll never forget.” I learned through Rogers’ experience to not be afraid about going out on my own to do what I’m interested in.

Don’t be afraid to go out on your own to do things you care about. For many of us traveling to London was the first time traveling alone, or even on a plane by ourselves. While I found it stressful, Rogers and our classmate, Erika Ortiz, FCLC ’18, enjoyed traveling alone. While Rogers was in Barcelona, Ortiz was in Dublin. Ortiz visited Dublin for a belated “Bloomsday” celebration, during which fans of James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses” travel around Dublin tracing the paths of the novel’s characters. Ortiz made a point of visiting Dublin, telling me with a smile on her face “I went to Dublin. I just let myself be a literary nerd for a weekend, and because of that, it was the best place I’ve been all summer.”

You don’t need to travel outside of the U.K. to feel like you’re in a different world from London—AND get an insta-worthy picture of it. For one classmate in particular, the month of June was just a small fraction of her time abroad. Callan McCarthy, FCRH ’18, spent the previous spring semester studying in London and decided to extend her visit because she wanted a little more time in the city. Throughout the course, McCarthy shared brief anecdotes about some of her favorite pubs (personally, I’d recommend Churchill Arms) and the places she’s been outside of the United Kingdom. When asking McCarthy what advice she would give to a student studying abroad, I thought she’d advise students to go somewhere they otherwise wouldn’t be able to. However, McCarthy recognizes just how much there is to explore in a country such as the United Kingdom. McCarthy eagerly told me “I wish I knew that so many interesting parts of England are so close to London. I’m very used to American geography, where it takes me three to four hours to go from New York City to my home in Rhode Island. Here, Scotland is only five hours away via train! I wish I had taken advantage of some more trips around the United Kingdom, since the train is so accessible.”

As McCarthy shared this information with me, I remembered weekend trips I took with my class, all of which were less than two hours away by charter bus, such as a trip one weekend to Stratford where we visited the places where Shakespeare was likely born and eventually died after leaving Stratford, followed by a play. On another weekend we rode to Bath to see the Roman baths, then drove an hour to Stonehenge. Even from Stonehenge we were only a mere two hours from the heart of the city. I found that even by taking the tube, I could explore outside London. I could ride as far as Richmond for a show at the Orange Tree Theatre, or to Kensal Green to explore a cemetery.

Some smaller cities have just as much to offer as the better known ones. A true example of the treasures of a small city is Stuttgart, Germany, where Deirdre McGrath, FCRH ’18, visited during her time studying abroad. McGrath is a member of Fordham University’s swim team, a time-consuming commitment that would prevent her from studying abroad for an entire semester. Because of this her time abroad was obviously limited and valuable, and McGrath made sure to take advantage of every weekend she had in London, visiting major cities like Barcelona and Dublin. However, she also took advantage of lesser known cities, like Stuttgart. When most people visit Germany they go to Berlin or Munich. Instead, McGrath jumped at the opportunity to go to the smaller town when she was invited to stay with her friend’s family, to experience Germany through the southwest capital. When asked about her time in a smaller city, McGrath was happy to say “I felt fully immersed in the culture, something I think doesn’t happen when you visit a big city. Having been to Europe before, I wish someone told me that the major cities are not as important. I was relieved to escape the sirens, tourists and crowds for a day.”

Do your research before traveling to a new place. Before going to any new place, it is important to have some sort of background knowledge of the culture. For the class I was taking in London, my professor asked my classmates and me to subscribe to “The Londonist,” so we would have a feel for what was going on when we arrived. While in London, we were lucky enough to go on a multitude of sightseeing trips and guided tours around historical and cultural sites in London and outside the city. Unfortunately, many of us didn’t research these sites before visiting. Morgan Steward, FCLC ’19, recognized this as a weakness of her study abroad experience. Steward’s insight for the nervous travel who finds themselves in this position in the future is “I think that knowing the backstory of an area makes you appreciate it more.”

When you feel like giving up and going home, sticking it out will most likely be worth it. Doing your research can also benefit in the instance of knowing exactly where you’re supposed to go. Nadine Santoro, FCRH ’18, recently made the mistake of excitedly rushing out to a museum (Tate Modern) for a exhibit that was in fact held at a different museum (Tate Britain). While the smaller lesson in Santoro’s story is to do your research, what she wanted future study abroad students to take away from her experience was “there were so many times where I would’ve preferred to give up on my plans when I got lost or when I got tired or when I was stressed out, but I pushed myself to stick it out.” When asked about her visit to the Tate Britain, Santoro was glad she stuck it through, even after the stress, and had the experience.

The important thing to remember is that plans don’t always work out, and sometimes you’ll need to go out on your own in order to do the things that truly inspire you. You shouldn’t let money or the fear of going alone stop you from pushing yourself from your comfort zone, or following your passions. Don’t forget the little trips to smaller towns and cities that offer just as much culture and history as the big ones, but remember to do your research beforehand. Know where you’re going and make it happen, even if that means fighting your natural urge to call it a day and retreat to your bed with a good book. Most importantly, bring an umbrella everywhere you go.