- Studying abroad is a great experience for any person. While you earn credits and make friends you are learning every day about something new. Maybe it’s something as large as unknowingly enabling a 98 year old woman to drink or something as small as how to buy food. I could tell you some stories about what happened but I know some of it will not be applicable to others who wish to learn a language and study abroad. So here are some small things with little stories that I hope can help other students.
- Be Indiana Jones- Now I don’t expect that each study abroad student should carry a whip and enter caves on the hunch of a lost golden idol, because you are not Harrison Ford! But when you have time between studying and lessons be adventurous with a group of friends and go off the beaten trail. I would walk with my friends in a certain direction in Tallinn and we found an awesome park that had a bunch of playground and an actual skate park. Try to find monuments you never knew, or look for a type of restaurant you want to eat at. Or just wander and look for something awesome because something awesome will happen (awesomeness comes to those who seek it). And if you happen to get lost, calm down, and then use your language skills. Ask for directions because chances are you will have an awesome experience finding something cool and really getting the most out of your experience. (but keep in mind of rule 4)
- Always be engaging- While I don’t endorse talking to every person on the street or talking to random strangers, I do tell you to embrace a chance to talk to someone. If you want to learn the language like I did start small and talk to people about where certain stores are (it helps you with getting your bearings and can provide some useful information). In one instance I asked a man selling souvenirs where I could buy some good cheap food. Although much of the conversation with the man who told me about these places was about their locations, rather than the price, you will be happy to know all the restaurants and if you are good enough where they are located.
- Be flexible and open- Things in foreign countries are so different than what you are used to. While this culture shock is natural it too- like my English grammar- will fade. I spent the better part of a half hour watching the cashier and the customers exchange money. I did this because I noticed that there was a tray there at the register where they place money. Some people handed the money to the cashier, but it seemed that more people never touched each other’s hand when making the transaction. If you want to blend in and learn more about the culture just do some small people watching take note of how minuscule actions are done. Although much of this is very small it can help you better adjust to the culture and to the norms that are set within the country. Who knows you could maybe pass for a native.
- Be aware of who you are and where you are- Yes this sounds like a pretty simple idea but in many ways it need repeating. You are a tourist in a foreign country and no matter how tough or how brave you are you must always be aware. Keep in mind that if you are a student you may represent your school and by extension your country (for those who have never seen an American before). Remember first impression are everything If you feel something is wrong or it is not safe then trust your gut and walk away. I remember when I decided not to go to a local restaurant in the city I was living in. I noticed that not only was it located in a rather shady part of town but was also not very popular even among some of the locals. I was offered the chance to go to this restaurant with my friends but I declined because I felt it was a bad decision. In the end two of the guys that were in my group got food poisoning. So be aware and keep your head on a swivel.
5. Have fun- Now there are many types of fun and to what degree of fun you engage in is up to you. However if you decide that you wish to dip into more fun than you can handle, then don’t. But if you put yourself in a compromising position have someone you trust to help you and never be a target. This is not to say don’t trust others because once you are far from home and in need of help you may need to turn to the closest source of help. Now I won’t put any kind of story in this kind of lesson because each person has their own story for this but in general be the intelligent and sober student you were once you heard you could go and study abroad(because of rule 4). But also have fun, you never know how a little fun can turn a night into a lesson in modern culture.