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.

Balancing School and Travel

Every college student is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. There’s the side that likes to binge-watch Netflix or funny videos on YouTube. They seem carefree and you almost wonder how they pass class, because you never see them doing their work. That’s when you see the other side: the student that stays up from anywhere between 2-4 in the morning, scrambling to finish their assignment, paper, etc. This is a stressful way to live, and pretty unhealthy if you aren’t getting enough sleep or eating the right things. With this lifestyle, it makes it a lot harder to travel.

This past weekend, I traveled to a city two hours away to give a talk at a conference. I had almost no time to do any work because I had been going to sessions almost every half hour. However, I knew that I wouldn’t want to do my work the day I got back from the trip, because I would be tired from traveling and hearing more talks. To spare myself lots of stress, I planned ahead and did what assignments I could during the previous week. This technique has always helped me when traveling.

When I was in Madrid, I traveled literally every weekend. I would leave on Thursday and get back Sunday. Sometimes I would just do a day trip, but I was still traveling. I would always get my homework done before leaving. Some of my classmates would bring their homework with them on trips, but I know that I would never be able to get it done on a trip, nor would I enjoy my trip if I spent it doing homework. If you are busy during the week, I would suggest doing the little, easier, quicker assignments first. Whenever you are already in homework mode, doing your other homework, get a little bit ahead by doing an assignment that is due when you come back from your trip. If you keep doing a little bit at a time, you may be surprised at how much you get done. If you decide to do all of your homework at once, that can be draining but then you won’t have to worry about any homework.

What kind of student are you? Do you ever work ahead? Share your homework tips below!

Meeting People Abroad

When looking at websites that offered study abroad advice, I noticed that students who had studied overseas were presented with the question: What do you wish you had done that you didn’t do? The answers I read were surprisingly very similar and not at all what I had expected. Students didn’t say that they wished that they had traveled more, or that they wish they would have bought more souvenirs. The biggest regret I had read about was that many students wished that they would have had the courage to talk to people locally and make friends.

Life presents many opportunities to cross paths with others, sometimes in crazy ways. It’s what you choose to do in that moment that will determine what will become of that encounter. Having gone through this myself, here is my advice on where you can meet people:

First I would suggest looking up language exchanges in the area. If there aren’t any, advertise that you would be interested in doing one! I have met plenty of nice and welcoming people from doing language exchanges. At first, it might have been strange because I did not know anyone, but after meeting up a few times, we became friends.

Consider joining a fitness class. The program I attended let American students sign up for fitness classes at the local university. I met a number of people because of taking hip-hop and Zumba classes. The great thing about doing this is that you already have something in common with everyone in the room, a love for the class you signed up for.

Also consider taking a local university class. It may seem intimidating, especially if you are not confident in your language abilities, but you will meet people who are willing to help you. I will admit that this can be scary at first because everyone seems to already have their own group of friends, but just start with something simple like, “Can I see your notes from the other day?” or, “Can I borrow a pen?”

Whether you consider yourself a Christian or not, I would suggest trying to attending a church. Some of the most welcoming people were those that I met from weekly Bible studies and going to church every Sunday. These people were very nice and cared about how my friends and I were doing and how we were adjusting to being away from home. I even met one of my good friends after accidentally locking myself in the bathroom!

After spending an extended amount of time somewhere, you start to form a routine. My friends and I would frequent restaurants and cafes that we enjoyed. In doing that, we became friends with the owners, and even got to talk to other customers at times.

One last thing I would recommend is to pay attention to your surroundings in general. You never know if you will be handed a flyer for an event that you would be interested in or if you will see a poster for something you would be interested in. You can even look up online what is going on in your area to find out more.

The truth is, you can meet people anywhere. Sometimes you will meet them in the grocery store and sometimes you will meet them in your hostel. It is confidence that you will need to be able to form friendships with others. While I cannot give you that confidence, I can tell you where you are likely to meet people. The suggestions that I mentioned come from my personal experience studying in Europe but there are so many other ways to meet people and make friends. If you have traveled before, where have you met people?

Homesickness is Real

Isn’t it ironic how we are living in a time where we are encouraged to celebrate our differences, but when we share our thoughts with someone that doesn’t agree with us, they get offended? It is so easy to say the wrong thing and take someone on a guilt trip that they did not want to be a part of.

When you go abroad, many people will tell you how fortunate you are that you get this opportunity. They will say how they wish they had that chance. They will tell you to make the most of your time away. As someone who has gone through this myself, I can say that this is true. You will have a fantastic time full of memories that should last you a lifetime. Something those people fail to take into account is that studying abroad is like opening a bag of Skittles. It is a bag full of sweets that you will enjoy, but with that comes some flavors you will not like. You did not ask for them, but they are there and they are part of the experience, and unlike Skittles, you can’t give those bad moments away to other people. This is where homesickness comes in.

I got homesick while I was abroad. I am not sure many people realized it, because I did not tell many people back home. I wanted everyone to know that I was having fun and making the most of my experience in Europe. While it was true, there were times when I would feel very homesick, but I would not tell anyone because I did not want them to think that I was ungrateful for this dream I was living out. It is so easy for people to say that they would make the most of their time abroad until they actually get to the point where they are in that situation. Not everyone realizes how much strength it takes to get up and leave everything they know and love to go away for an extended period of time. In the end, you are left feeling guilty for missing everyone.

It’s okay to feel homesick. Just don’t let it paralyze you.

Homesickness is natural, especially if you are close with your friends and family. The more you have to leave behind, the more you are going to miss those things. It is totally normal to want to share this once-in-a-lifetime experience with those you love and wish that they were there with you. That being said, do NOT let this feeling paralyze you. It is okay to acknowledge that it is there, and that some days will be worse than others. I guarantee there are other people in your shoes that feel the exact same way that you can talk to. However, that one semester you spend away will fly by. Time does not wait for anyone. Continue to live your life and make new memories. Live in the moment before you realize that it is too late, or else the only thing you will remember is how homesick you felt the whole time you were gone.

I did not have that experience but I know some people who did and it was such a shame to see their experience go to waste. Has anyone ever made you felt bad for being homesick? What were some things you did to combat homesickness?

Don’t Miss the Moment

So many people are living yesterday or dreaming about tomorrow that they miss the now. They’re thinking about going abroad or when they went abroad. They’re both wonderful things but don’t miss the here and now because what was got you to this moment and what is now will get you to that future moment that you’re dreaming about, so embrace the here and now and live it to its fullest.

Whenever people ask me if I miss being abroad, I tell them that I do, but only a little bit. The joy I receive from spending time with my loved ones and being in a familiar place outweighs that negative feeling of missing the life I lived a year ago. I looked forward to being abroad in anticipation of what was going to be. Now that I’ve done it, I have fantastic memories. However I also have my life at this moment (friends, classes). The life that you live is going on. Remember that the life you’re living now is preparation for what will be. Enjoy the moment, including the painful ones because they are lessons. 

While I was away, I missed home very much. I missed my family, my friends, my school, and especially my significant other. Homesickness is real and I don’t like when people try to make those who feel homesick bad for feeling that way. Despite feeling homesick, I did not let that paralyze me to the point of not having fun and making Skype calls home every day for hours on end. I counted myself as fortunate to be able to travel around Europe and live the dream I had been wanting to live for years. I took advantage of my opportunity. It was worth it and I would never take that experience back. What I normally tell people when they ask me how I feel is, “I was happy in Europe and I am happy at home. I am happy wherever I am.” The last thing I want people to think is that I was unhappy going abroad.

Be happy wherever you are. Live the life you want to live with what you have around you. Count the blessings in your life. If times are tough, remember that they are just lessons for you to learn and without them, you would not be the person you are today. Without the good and bad moments in life, you would not have gotten to this point. Most importantly, do not spend your life wishing away the present moment for something you are excited for in the future. Embrace now. Live now.

The Perks of Being Multilingual Abroad

❝One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way.❞ ‒Frank Smith

When I was in France, life presented me with many multilingual opportunities that I never expected to have. During the first week of my program in Nantes, I quickly befriended some of my classmates and later found out that Spanish was their native language. Though it was not so easy to keep up with my Spanish while I was in Nantes, I was able to speak with some of my friends during my time away. IES Nantes is a small program that had about 32 people when I was studying with them. You would be surprised at the amount of bilingual or trilingual people you can meet just within your program.

Every week, my program held a conversation club where students in my program could meet French students our age. We would get into groups and speak in English for about 45 minutes, and then speak French for the last 45 minutes. It was during that time where I met more native Spanish-speakers. Some of the students were from Latin America and grew up bilingually, others were just interested in the language and studied it at school. At times, the bilingual conversation club ended up turning into a trilingual conversation club!

While I was in Nantes, I did an internship where I taught English. The fact that I spoke English helped me get an internship, but speaking Spanish gave me even more opportunities that some of my classmates were unable to have. Not only did I help out in the English classroom, but on one occasion when I wasn’t able to go to the class I had been helping out in, I was sent to a Spanish classroom as an assistant. I also had the opportunity to get paid to tutor a high school student in Spanish. That was one of the highlights of my year abroad as well as one of the highlights in my language-learning career: using my third language to teach my second language.

Not only did I have unexpected multilingual opportunities in Nantes, but I also had some in Spain. Being in the capital, there was a lot of opportunity to go to a language exchange and meet people. One that I had gone to was the Cafe Tandem exchange. I was able to go to a Spanish-French exchange and not have to worry about speaking English, a problem I had encountered in other language exchange groups. Because I spoke two other languages, I was able to use them without running the risk of not actually practicing any of my languages. It was also nice because I got to maintain my French while I was in Spain and make great friends. I had also posted an advertisement at Casa do Brasil to do an English-Portuguese language exchange. Unfortunately, no one responded until one of my last days in Spain, but I did get to meet a really cool Brazilian girl and do a language exchange with her.

In the United States, we are starting to realize the importance of knowing a second language, but we need to take that even further. Why stop after two languages? When you are traveling, you never know who you are going to meet, whether you are traveling in the United States or in Europe. You never know what connections you will have and what memories you will be able to make. Have you traveled and had the chance to speak multiple languages? What are some of your stories? Share them in the comments below!

There’s Always a Lesson to Learn

Have I exhausted all the topics of study abroad? You may think so. To an extent I covered many. However, there is always a lesson to be learned. Sometimes you may not realize the lesson immediately but it comes at a later point in time. Have you ever bought a CD and years later discovered there was a song you really liked but you didn’t realize was on there when you bought it? This has happened to my parents. You have your lessons from the immediate study abroad experience but as time goes on you’ll realize there’s even more to be gained. Years later you discover, “Wow, how did I not see that back then?” It wasn’t needed then. Study abroad will continue to pay great dividends long after the experience is over. 

Have you ever watched a movie twice, three times, or even four and noticed something new each time that you did not realize before? It could be a tiny detail that makes the overall arching theme more clear. When you take a stroll down memory lane to your time abroad, you never know what details will become clearer. You never know if you will have a revelation that you can turn into a great blog post that can help others when they are going to travel.

You have a whole lifetime to live and learn. You can learn from your current mistakes, others’ mistakes, and even your past mistakes. When reading a book, many people can interpret the same story in different ways. Maybe one specific part stuck out to you as a lesson to learn while a different part stuck out more to someone else. As you grow and change and look back on your memories, your brain is viewing the same memory but in a different way than the last time you looked back on that memory. You never know what you are going to learn but one thing is for sure: you will never stop learning because there is always a lesson to learn.