Living in a Tourist Town

We are always on the move. After doing some research, I found that it is estimated that Americans will move about 10-11 times during their lifetime. Although I have not moved around much and have plenty of time to do so, I spoke with others who have. My parents have experienced living in many different kinds of places, from a small town in Pennsylvania, to huge well-known cities. Some of the places where they have lived for an extended period of time were tourist destinations such as New York City and Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

The cool thing about living in a tourist town is that you get to experience life as a local. When I went to school in Gettysburg, students divided everyone into three groups: college students, tourists, and “townies.” It didn’t take much time to figure out who was who when living there. Being there for a long time, students could see what Gettysburg had to offer, not just as a tourist destination but also locally. Had I only been a tourist in Gettysburg, I would have not known that there was a Hispanic community there that I could get involved with. I got to experience going to mass in Spanish, volunteer at a bilingual school, and go to a yearly event called “Salsa on the Square.”

However, life and work creeps up on us, consuming our time so much that we sometimes forget to do the touristy activities before it’s time to pack up and move again. One piece of advice my parents have given me, as well as others, was to do everything while you can. In the case of when I studied in Madrid, I knew my time was limited to three months, so I knew how much time I had to visit every museum and sight I wanted to go to. Most of the time, when people move, they don’t know how long they will be staying in a given place. It can vary depending on the type of job and of course, life being unpredictable.

I never did get to go on any ghost tours when I was in Gettysburg, but I did get to see the battlefields and had two very knowledgeable friends give me a tour. I got to know which ice cream places were popular with locals and which ones were tourist traps. I got to know some of the locals through frequenting restaurants in different places where I have studied. I had four years to see and do everything that I wanted to, so I could spread things out. However, I wish that I would have done and discovered some things earlier, because I would have done them more often, such as riding around the battlefield in a scoot coupe with my roommates.

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If you are thinking about or already living in a tourist town, take advantage of the things to do. Maybe you already have, and that’s great! Maybe you haven’t yet because you don’t want to be associated with tourists or you just haven’t found the time yet. Take advantage before it’s too late! Explore, discover, and share with others! You never know what you may find.

Staying Hydrated Overseas

Unhealthy habits come in many forms and everyone has one. Maybe you spend too much time on your phone. Maybe you find yourself eating ungodly amounts of junk food. Maybe you are working too much and not getting enough sleep. Some of these bad habits become stereotypes for college students. Even college students, most of the time, would agree with some of these points. For me, personally, I do not drink enough water. I do not like the taste of water, and yes, water has a taste. In addition to not liking water, I don’t really get thirsty. This was one thing I didn’t think would change when I was abroad, but I was wrong.

During my time in Spain, I realized Madrid was a lot more dry than I would have thought. Maybe it was the fact that I was traveling and walking around all the time, or maybe Madrid really is just dry. Regardless, it is a good idea to pack a refillable water bottle if you are planning on studying abroad anywhere. Water fountains are not as common in Europe as they are in the United States, and surprisingly, some places will not give you tap water, even if you order it. Besides, if you are out and about, you will want to have a water bottle with you. It will save on money that you may be spending on disposable water bottles.

Although Madrid was dry, my experience in Nantes was even more difficult. Like Madrid, Nantes did not always offer tap water as an option at restaurants and some servers would not give it to customers who ordered it. My friends and I would end up having to buy a bottle of water at restaurants, paying an unnecessary fee. On top of that, most of my friends and I had noticed that our host families did not drink a whole lot of water when we would eat with them. When mine would refill my glass, they would only give me half a glass, and the glasses were tiny. I felt awkward constantly refilling my own when my host parents only drank half a glass and wine.

I never thought that this would be an issue for me when going abroad, especially because I hardly drink anything. Even so, I wanted to pass this suggestion onto others who may be studying abroad in the future. I also wrote a post on other things that I would suggest packing. Trust me, it’s different from what study abroad websites will normally tell you to pack. Have you traveled somewhere and ran into this situation? What are some unconventional things you would suggest bringing with you?

Is It Free?

Someone once said, “The best things in life are free.” Now, when they said that, they probably were not referring to food samples in Sam’s Club or breadsticks in Olive Garden. Unlimited refills on the bread basket or tap water are things we take for granted in the United States. You do not always get that luxury outside of the country. One thing that I learned during my travels, as opposed to before my journey, was that what is free in the States might not be in Europe.

Tap water and refills. I have gotten frustrated at times when it came to ordering tap water at a restaurant. Sometimes, when I would order tap water, the waiter or waitress would tell me that they did not have it. Of course they have tap water. If they have a faucet then they have to have tap water (especially if the water is drinkable in the city that you are visiting). Sometimes you will run into a situation where a restaurant just wants your money and will make you pay for bottled water because “that is all they have”. Also, it is not as common to order a fountain drink and get free refills. Every time I have ordered soda, it came in a small bottle. Refills were added to the bill.

Bread. When a restaurant puts bread on your table without you ordering it, do not pick it up and eat it right away. It does not cost a lot of extra money, but you will find that an extra charge was added to your bill. If a bread basket is put on your table and one person grabs one of the rolls but no one else does, you will still get charged. Not all places in Europe do this. I mostly experienced it in Spain. My friends and I learned to ask before diving into the bread. However, in Italy my roommate and I got weird looks from our waitress when we asked if the bread on our table was free. If you want to avoid the extra charge, make sure to ask your server about the bread. This is not Red Lobster or Texas Roadhouse.

Samples. I remember going shopping with my family in Sam’s Club on a given Sunday afternoon after church. In the food section of the store, there would be vendors lined up in front of each aisle with various samples of food, drinks, and snacks. I remember trying the samples as a kid and even getting filled up on them after tasting them all. I did not see much of this in Europe. I actually did not even see a Sam’s Club equivalent over in Spain and France. I think there were about two occasions where I tried samples. One was in a grocery store and the other was in a store that sold touristy merchandise of Nantes.

Whether you are just visiting Europe or staying for a significant length of time, it is important to remember that Europe is not the United States. There may not be a huge culture shock, but you cannot expect everything to be like it is back home.

6 Things You Should Know Before Going Abroad

You will grow up. You will have to become independent in more ways than you would have thought when you went away to college for the first time. It means learning the life skills you were never taught in school such as reading a map, learning how to interact with people who live a culture completely different from yours, and handling stressful last-minute situations like when you almost miss your bus back home or your flight to a weekend trip.

You are in someone else’s territory, literally. Think of being invited on vacation with someone and their family or staying over someone else’s house. Adjustments will have to be made when you change up your routine. The programs I did in Spain and France were only with American students. Some students had a harder time adjusting to being in a different country than others. You are not in the United States. Some places do have a Starbucks on every corner. Some places don’t have a Starbucks at all. It may not sound like a big problem, but I have met people who had a hard time adjusting to Spain and France because they compared it to the United States. They would get frustrated over the small coffee cup sizes or the fact the waiters didn’t constantly check up on you. They said they missed the United States and wished they were home. You will be with many people who are used to living a life that is different from yours. You can’t change them. You will have to adjust to how they are living. Knowing that and applying that will help you truly enjoy yourself.

Consider saving an old smartphone and bringing it. Some people will recommend to buy a pay-as-you-go phone abroad. I brought my current phone with me and bought a SIM card because I knew I was going to be careful with it. If you don’t want to run the risk of losing your phone or having it stolen, you should save your old smartphone and bring it with you. That way, you will be able to have the luxury of having a smartphone without buying a phone. You will also become a master at finding wifi.

You may not always get along with your host family. I already wrote a post on my homestay experiences, so I won’t go into detail on this one. However, before going abroad I had read about many people who got along with their family so much that they are continuing to stay in contact with them even after returning home. As much as you may hear that, that will not always be the case. Even so, it is still a great experience that I believe anyone who is studying abroad should look into.

Not all stereotypes are true. Do not pay attention to everything you read online. I like to be as best prepared as I can be before getting myself into a situation. Before going overseas, I researched everything from students’ experiences to what they packed to how safe Spain and France are. Even though every student’s experiences will be unique, I heard many of the same stereotypes: Europeans only wear dark colors, they don’t wear shorts, they don’t wear sneakers, the French are cold, etc. Not all of this is true. If you would like to see a different perspective based on my personal experiences, you can read my other posts.

It may not be what you think; it may be more. You hear everyone say that you will see new places, meet new people, and better your language skills, but you do not really hear about the person’s expectations. I have met Americans who were disappointed by their abroad experience because it wasn’t all they thought it would be. Other American students were thrilled because it exceeded their expectations. The best thing you can do is try not to go somewhere new with expectations of the place or the people. People will tell you their thoughts on the place or the people based on their experiences. You won’t have the same experiences. Ultimately, study abroad is what you make it, so make it count.

Safety in Madrid

Bad things happen in life. They can happen whether you’re looking for trouble or even if you’re just sitting on your couch watching TV. Sometimes certain situations can be avoided but other times they’re inevitable. Some of my family and friends had expressed to me their fear for me going abroad. I’ve heard quite a few times that the world is unsafe and that there are crazy people. While that is true, especially in certain parts of the world more than others, I was going to be studying in Madrid, Spain. I hadn’t heard anything on the news recently about it but being the overly cautious person I am, I did my research and I did it well. I may have even over-researched.

Everything I had read online said that Madrid was a generally safe city. The only crime I kept seeing mentioned was pickpocketing. I read blog posts that said how bad it was and that there would even be groups of pickpockets working together that would try to distract you while their buddy steals your wallet. Some websites said that the pickpockets would even follow you from afar and even wait until you crossed the street to get you. This worried me, so I went online and ordered an anti-theft purse, which has worked out wonderfully! I would totally recommend getting one if you’re traveling. However, I want to add that in the three and a half months I was there, I was not pickpocketed and I was safe.

My biggest advice is what you’ll read anywhere online: be alert; use your head. Try not to look like a tourist. Look like you know where you’re going, even if you don’t. If you really don’t know where you’re going then ask someone. Most people will be glad to help you and as I’ve said, I’ve ran into a decent amount of people who will give directions in English.

I felt safe living in the city and getting around on my own. I walked home alone at night but I didn’t do things I wouldn’t have done back in the U.S., for example, walk on streets that aren’t busy. I was careful anywhere I had gone in Spain and anywhere else I have been to in Europe and I was okay. I can’t speak for everyone and all of Europe but these have been my personal experiences. Sometimes, bad things can happen that can’t always be helped but I don’t think that should stop anyone from going abroad, especially to Madrid.

 

My Last Week in Spain

There are two types of posts I’ve seen surface on Facebook since my program has ended, one type being the “cliché” post about how studying abroad has changed the person’s life, the other kind of post being from people making fun of the cliché posts. However, I would not be speaking honestly about how my experience has affected me if I weren’t being cliché. Everybody has a unique experience when they visit another country, but overall many people come back being able to say similar things, that is where the clichés surface.

My life has indeed been changed. I am a better navigator (but I am still learning), my Spanish has gotten better, I have learned about different cultures and languages other than in Spain, and I have seen so many places that I may have never seen if I had not studied overseas. I have become more independent in ways that I had not anticipated. I can even say I have been to three continents now! It has been my dream for years to travel to another country. Not only have I realized that dream but the best part is that I am only half way done. My next semester in Nantes is approaching quickly and I am excited to see what awaits me there.

Originally I was supposed to go to Belgium for the week but I ended up not being able to go. Instead, I took a day trip to Salamanca and went back to Segovia. Check out my video below!

Let’s Get to the Point: Directness in Spain

Have you ever reacted late to a joke only to realize that everyone else already understood it way before you? It took me weeks to realize that people in Spain are very direct when talking to you. I was on a trip to Seville, about to order food, when the woman at the counter said, “Dime,” which basically means, “Tell me.” There was no “How may I help you?” nor “What would you like to order?”

At first I thought it was just this waitress who talked like that until I noticed that many Spaniards were doing it, including my host mom who would throw bread at me and say, “Toma más pan.” (More or less: Have more bread.) Many Spaniards speak directly, using commands such as: dime, toma, come, etc. For me, this was very interesting because I am not a very direct person. Many people I speak with in the U.S. are not direct, at least in the part where I am from. Even in Spanish class we never learned that people in Spain were direct. This was new to me and something that myself and some of the other students from my program had to adapt to.

In a week from today, I’ll be going back to the United States. I can’t believe how quickly three months has gone by. I’ve already said many goodbyes to friends from my program, but this feels far from over. It feels like it just started.