I’ve just finished my semester abroad in Athens, Greece! It was such an amazing experience, and had so many elements I did not expect. Thus, I hope with this article to prepare any future study abroad students a little better for the part of study abroad they don't tell you about.
I’ve never understood those people who just don’t like change, I’ve always been the type of person who craves new things and constant change in my life, I try to avoid routine as much as I can. In high school my mom used to make fun of me because I would move around all the furniture in my room every three weeks when I wanted to procrastinate homework. Studying abroad is everything but routine. Specifically studying in Europe, it’s very common you will link up with travel buddies and jump country to country on the weekends. Sounds ideal, but definitely not as easy as it looks.
Cheap flying. If you’ve ever been to Europe you’re probably familiar with Ryanair, the uber-cheap, sort of terrible airline that is a wanderlusting college kids travel dream. However, you can buy a 50 euro round trip ticket from Athens to Rome for a reason. Because unpopular flight times are the cheapest, most flights on Ryanair are super early in the morning or just after your ideal bed time. This means get used to 4-5 hours of sleep or less, because your friends will expect you to go out until 2am even though you have a flight at 5am.
Cheap living. Odds are you're not going to be able to afford nice hotels you're used to from family vacations growing up, thus comes the holy grails of hostel world and airbnb. They’re easy, cheap, and safe and sometimes nice but don't bet on it. And definitely don't bet on the pictures in the booking looking exactly like where you stay. Depending on the time of year, we found most places we stayed were not reliable to have heat or hot showers. Typically though, airbnb is a really safe bet for finding somewhere to sleep for cheap. I did have one bad experience in Rome with a not-so-nice room we booked because its location was so close to the Colosseum. Regardless, living situations when traveling aren’t a big deal because odds are you won’t be sleeping much anyways!
Sleep deprivation. Because of the lack of sleep in your rooms, you’re going to sleep everywhere else. And I mean everywhere. Airports, taxis, buses, trains, floors, ubers, couches, coffee shop tables, etc. Sometimes the cheapest option for getting between countries means 18-hour layovers in the middle of nowhere in Scotland and you play homeless for the night -- but that's all part of the adventure!
Carbs. Expect your jeans to fit a little tighter when you go home. Or a lot tighter. In the movie "Eat Pray Love," Elizabeth Gilbert goes to Naples, the birthplace of pizza, and can't even zip her jeans after a few weeks. Welcome to Europe, where your meals are bread, pasta, and more bread, and be prepared to gain some weight because almost every single person does. #Noregrets.
Going broke. While study abroad is expensive with housing fees, flights out of America, program fees, etc., going traveling many weekends will drain your bank account fast. No matter how much you saved, it's smart to set a budget at the start of the semester, lay out any and all trips you have planned as well as staying in your home country, and set limits on costs for food, entertainment, travel costs, etc. It might make you think twice when deciding whether to take a bus or a taxi to the airport.
With all the lack of money and sleep, there's a famous quote that says travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. After my experience, I firmly believe in that quote. It is a life-changing experience and, I think, a monumental factor in a student's college experience. I've always told myself that if I go to Europe and don't go home with my jeans a little tighter and my wallet a lot lighter, that I did it right. I'm proud to say I accomplished that.