BlogDH’s Comprehensive Guide to Study Abroad

Study-Abroad

With study abroad decisions in the near future for many underclassmen, the campus seems overwhelmed with travel-relevant questions. Sophomores on BlogDH had our own questions, so we created a Blog panel in order to answer some of the basics, including the dichotomy between studying abroad in the Fall and the Spring. Our Fall correspondent went to Copenhagen, Denmark, and our Spring correspondent went to Paris, France.

Will I implode on myself if I miss Spring Weekend?

Spring: Um, no. If you go your junior spring, you’ll still have your senior Spring Weekend, which is the most important. Depending on where you go abroad, you might also get a Spring Weekend-esque concert. I was in France when gay marriage was legalized, and MIKA gave a free, outdoor concert. There were thousands of people, the performance was amazing, and I didn’t have to wake up at an ungodly hour to give BCA my money.

Is it more fun to have warm weather when I arrive or at the end of my stay abroad?

Fall: Particularly for the destination in which I chose to study abroad, it was really great having warm weather when I arrived. Being able to explore an unfamiliar, new home in the sunlight and warmth was a way to make the transition much smoother. More specifically, the place I went also increasingly loses hours of light by the minute, so by the time I left in December there were only six hours of daylight. I couldn’t imagine trying to navigate the streets of a foreign city in the darkness.

Spring: I enjoyed going from cold to warm because it meant the weather could only get better with time. I also chose to study abroad in the spring because I hate Providence weather from January-April. The way I saw it, if I’m going to be cold, I might as well be cold in Europe.

What’s the deal with commuting?

Fall: It differs based on what the details of your program are. Some are situated on campuses on which all students live, whereas others (like the one I attended) are more of “commuter” schools. If you are studying abroad in Europe, however, the public transportation systems are almost guaranteed to be very functional and easy to navigate. The program will usually cover your commuting costs, as well.

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Is it okay to go alone? Will I make friends?

Fall: You will definitely make friends, but I would recommend going with at least one person you know. You don’t have to be best friends, but having someone with whom you’re familiar with will make the unfamiliarity of the new place more manageable.

Spring: Living abroad can be pretty alienating, especially if there’s a language barrier and you’re far from home. Having one person there that you can relate to helps the transition process. However, if you study abroad in a large city, especially in Europe, you’re bound to meet other students studying abroad who are going through the same transition process.

Are the classes… real? Can I S/NC that shit?

Fall: All of your classes will transfer back to your Brown transcript as S/NC, but they ARE real. My courses all had very strict attendance and work policies.

Taking classes in another language… how does that go?

Spring: The first couple of weeks are tricky. It’s hard to keep up, for sure, but it’s a great exercise to sharpen your listening skills. In France, the teaching style is: professor lectures for 2+ hours, students transcribe every. single. word. It’s hard getting used to, but by the end you’ll adjust.

Is there a Halloweek abroad?

Fall: No, but there is Halloween. Though it is very much an American holiday, these foreign club owners aren’t dumb; they are well aware that if they throw Halloween-themed events, the American study-abroad students will eagerly flock to their venues like trick-or-treaters to a bowl of candy.

How will it feel when I come back to Brown?

Fall: Strange, but good. There’s a sense of familiarity that one gets while walking around campus or up Thayer Street for the first time that is simultaneously unsettling and comforting. The way that I have described it to those who did not go abroad is as follows: for those of us who were away, our Brown life was put on pause. When we returned, however, it became clear that this was not the case. In reality, everything continued: classes went on, parties were thrown, and new frosh made their debut. But when the initial reverse-culture-shock wears off, it also becomes clear that Brown is still Brown, and there is no need to lament any time “missed.”

It's not much, but it's home (sort of).

It’s not much, but it’s home (sort of).

Spring: Weird. Definitely weird. I liked going abroad in the spring because it gave me the summer to transition. I didn’t have to go straight into classwork, was able to make some money after the bank drain that was the euro, and get back in the swing of things. Also, lose all the weight I gained from the baguettes/wine.

Will people besides my mother actually read my study abroad blog?

Fall: Maybe! Well, probably not after the first few. If you don’t want to keep a public blog, it still is worth it to keep some sort of personal journal or record of all of your (mis)adventures.

Spring: Probably not. But you should still Instagram your entire semester.

So, what is the housing situation when I come back?

Fall: It’s tough, to say the least. If you have not secured off-campus permission, (which, technically, juniors who study abroad are not allowed to receive) ResLife essentially places you wherever they can possibly think of. Don’t believe me? This year, I know of people who were placed in fraternity libraries and dorm kitchens. They also don’t inform you of this location until approximately 5 days before the beginning of the semester, so I was already planning out the site of where to pitch my tent on the Main Green.

Spring: Because I missed the housing lottery but wanted to live on campus, I had a proxy. Of a group of four, three of us were abroad. That night was very stressful, all of us in Europe banking on the one person back in Providence – but it worked out.

How much do I pack?

Nope.

Nope.

Fall: So much less than you think. Take out everything you want to bring, and then eliminate half of it. When you travel, you will end up wearing the same, comfortable outfits over and over again. The most important asset is a pair of comfortable and reliable walking shoes–you will do a SHIT TON of walking.

Spring: One suitcase, then bring a collapsible duffel bag or purchase a new one for all the shit you will inevitably buy while you’re there.

How will I adjust to being legal at bars?

Fall: It’s easier than you think. The initial wariness that you have become accustomed to in the U.S. will remain intact for the first few visits, and then it just becomes too easy. The re-adjustment back to the States is definitely harder.

Spring: There is very little adjustment.

How much money will I spend?

Fall: Much more than you budget. It’s almost a guarantee. Everything costs something, as ridiculous as it may seem. It’s hard to avoid.

Spring: Ha. All of it.

Is it weirder leaving and not seeing my senior friends graduate, or is it weirder to come back halfway through the year?

Fall: I think that coming back halfway through the year is definitely not easy, but I found it preferable to imagining that I would never see my senior friends again.

Spring: It was definitely sad to say my goodbyes to seniors in the fall.

What are the top destinations to which I should travel during my breaks?

Fall: It depends on where you are and what kind of travel you are looking for. Metropolitan, rural, cultural, party central? There are unlimited options. Sit down at the beginning of the semester, prioritize, and be realistic. There are going to be endless places you’d like to go and see, but there’s only a limited amount of time (and funds). I’d suggest choosing places with specific destinations that appeal to you or where you have friends whom you’d like to visit. Personally, my favorite places were Barcelona (beautiful beaches, sangria, tapas) and Amsterdam (pancakes, coffee shops, canals, and incredible museums).

Spring: I didn’t travel much while I was abroad, but I did make it a point to go to Amsterdam. I had never been, and the city blew me away. It’s very small (pedestrian friendly), not very expensive (compared to Paris), the people are all very nice and gorgeous, and the city is really beautiful itself. Sure, there’s the whole “Euro Trip” fantasy associated with Amsterdam – the Red Light District, legalized pot, etc. But that’s just a tiny pocket of the city, and there’s so much more to see.

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We hope that we have provided you with some insight as you continue to plan your Brown education and/or stress over your myriad of options!

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