While finishing up my study abroad to Portugal, I compiled a list of my takeaways from the trip to share now.
- Going on a trip that is involved in a non-UA program like classes at another university is both exciting and terrifying. While it’s a great opportunity to make new friends, it is also super scary to interact with people who are completely different from you if you aren’t a social butterfly. It’s definitely easiest to fall into a pattern of only befriending other UA students, but I think you lose a bit of the experience doing so. Go on a trip that includes people from other schools and make yourself befriend them!
- The idea of being surrounded by other cultures can be really scary. For me, I was in Portugal where about 65% of people spoke some level of English. Google translate is going to be your best friend if the primary language of the country you’re visiting isn’t English. Download the language they speak in advance!!!! Those who don’t speak English are often patient and want to understand so they don’t seem to mind waiting for you to translate on your phone for a second.
- On another culture note, if you’re a picky eater, studying abroad can be very intimidating. I am someone who has safe foods that I stick to and aside from McDonald’s, there were not many safe foods in Portugal. I had to step outside my comfort zone and try new foods. Some of them I loved, and others not so much. My attached image is of the traditional Portuguese meal francesinha. It is essentially a mystery meat sandwich topped with an egg and coated in a beer sauce. I can’t say I was the biggest fan, but it was certainly interesting to experience. I highly recommend getting groceries if your travel and lodging plans allow for it so if you buy food you don’t like, at least you have food you like at your lodging to eat if needed.
- Look up the general cost of things in your study abroad country and use those prices to plan your budget. I mistakenly planned my budget using the prices I pay for similar things in the United States and it ended up being entirely unreasonable once I got to Portugal. Many other countries have a lower cost of living than the United States, so you’ll likely spend less money than you expect.
- Sometimes people in other countries look down on the United States and Alabama (even other Americans look down on Alabama, even) and you have to let it roll off your back and not take it personally. You aren’t the issue they are mad about. Oftentimes, they don’t even know what they are upset about. This advice applies in many situations, but I happened to run into a lot of people that had snarky reactions to me saying I was from America/Alabama and it became stressful early on. I felt like I didn’t even have time to make a good impression because the place I was born was already bad enough to discourage people from getting to know me. However, anyone worth getting to know isn’t going to make their final decision about you 30 seconds in to meeting you based on your home country.
Of course, I have many other points of advice that may be detailed in another post sometime. But, for now, this is all.