Abroad student finds bravery in Europe

By Shelby Devitt

Until June 14, I’d never been outside the U.S. Based on my month studying in Ireland and week running around Paris, I have assembled some advice for anyone contemplating studying abroad.

Firstly, if you’re thinking about it, do it. Make the time, because before you know it, you’ll have kids and a mortgage and you’ll regret not taking advantage of the opportunity when you were young. If you can’t afford it, pick up more hours at work or a second job. Apply for scholarships and loans. I promise, all your hard work and debt will be worth it.

Do your research. You’re not going to have a good time if you just show up unprepared. Buy a guidebook ahead of time, preferably one with a map of any public transportation you’ll be using, and read up. I’m partial to Lonely Planet or

Frommer’s. Online research is pertinent, especially if you’re planning on staying in a hostel. Ask classmates, coworkers and family who have gone before you for recommendations. Read the free guides and flyers that lay around every airport and hotel. This is how I discovered a free concert festival in Paris and the Dublin Pride Parade.

Extend your education beyond the classroom. Go to museums and events and take daytrips and tours, either alone or with others in your class.

Take walks around the city and see what public life is like. One of the best experiences for me was grocery shopping. It was daunting at first but then became really amusing. Understand the difference in vacation and living in a place.

Learn some of the language, try using the metric system, Celsius and telling time with a 24 hour system.

Be friendly.

The fun thing about Europe in the summer is that there are lots of people our age from all over the world travelling. The other foreigners have the same objectives as you: have fun, learn and make it home alive. Chances are, they’ve got advice you want. Also, the locals can tell you about places the guidebook won’t or give advice based on what you’re into. Be flexible, because an inevitability of travelling abroad is that frustrating, inconvenient, embarrassing and sometimes awful things will happen to you. At the time, it will be scary and not humorous at all, but tell yourself you can solve the problem and you’ll have a great story later. I’ve been lost, harassed, unable to exchange money because it’s Sunday in Belfast on Ulster March weekend and the five different ATMs I tried refused my card and locked out of my friend’s Parisian apartment. She was at work, and I was wearing nothing but my pajamas, desperately needing a bathroom, with no money or phone. It is entirely possible that much worse will happen to you, but fear not. It builds character.

While I was busy gaining all this life experience, I was also learning a lot about myself. A month ago, I wrote of my difficulty in being alone, but I’m so glad I made the effort to go on this adventure. I know more now about myself and I’ve expanded my worldview. Some lessons I’ve learned about myself: I am terrible at packing. I can fall asleep anywhere if I’m exhausted enough. I am braver than I thought.