I am super late with my post today because it has been a super hectic day and I didn’t prepare ahead of time. But without further ado I was recently reminiscing about my 4 months abroad in Russia and thought I should share some of my suggestions for studying abroad, or just going abroad in general.
We took a tour of a vodka factory so that meant we got to try about 15 different kinds of alcohol. Woo!
1. Spend as much time as you can out and about having experiences. I was there studying 4 days a week 9-3. Which was a pretty difficult decision really difficult going from college schedule. But it is so important to do more than just study – there were many weeknights when I decided at the last minute to go out with my friends and ended up staying out all night. While it was really difficult to go to class the next morning I had amazing experiences that I wouldn’t trade for more sleep.
2. Drink a lot of actual water.
Russia is famous for being a place of tea drinkers (I know what you’re thinking … yes they drink vodka too) and I love tea so I thought I was getting enough water through that. Wrong. Found that out the hard way by passing out on a really crowded bus on my way to school. After that I made sure to buy really large bottles of water and drink as often as I could. This is especially important if you’re going to a country that doesn’t have the best drinking water for foreigners.
3. Try to make an effort to use the language. Since I was studying abroad for the purpose of learning the language this wasn’t too difficult for me. Correction. It was super difficult because my brain was basically fried after every day but it was easier because I was forced to use the language. My host family was not allowed to speak English to me and my teachers weren’t either. 90% of the people who lived in my city also didn’t know English so really the only chances I had to speak it was when I was alone with my fellow students.
4. Spend time and get to know your host family. I was really lucky to have a host family that was fairly young and that consisted of a father, a mother, a college age son and a daughter that was married and out of the house. It was nice that they were young because they were more understanding about me going out and having people over and respectful of my privacy. It was also nice to have the whole family package because it made it feel more like I had a family away from my own. There were days when I didn’t want to struggle through having conversations in Russian with my host parents over dinner but I always ended up having a great time and learning something. I was also able to meet the extended family because my host mom had her 50th birthday while I was there which was overwhelming but great.
5. Don’t be stupid. At orientation we were basically scared out of our minds about all of the dangers lurking around every corner. And while that might have been overkill it is still necessary to be aware of the culture you are entering and use common sense. For example: when we were out in public my fellow American’s and I spoke Russian or we didn’t really speak, especially around police officers or in bars with drunk Russians. We didn’t need to draw more attention to ourselves. There was one person on the program who walked through a construction site in the middle of the night and got mugged and then sent home on the next plane. Common sense is the best sense.
6. Be respectful. We were there during a lot of holidays and I felt like it was important to acknowledge them and also observe them, if only for the sake of the experience. On one holiday that was a celebration of our teachers one of my classmates decided that he was too good to get our teachers flowers and or chocolates as is standard. We were all appalled because that is just a blatant sign of disrespect, especially after there women spend all of their days trying to help us learn their language. After we hounded him the entire day he finally went during lunch to grab flowers for our teachers and they were very happy to get them.
7. See as many places as possible. While I didn’t have a super large amount of time to travel around and it didn’t help that my program restricted me to only Russia and Russia is huge in general I still managed to see several different places. The cities that I visited included my own (Vladimir), Moscow, St.Petersburg and Sochi. Moscow and St.Petersburg were both weekend trips and Sochi was a 10 day trip at the end of the semester. And while in those cities for such a limited time I tried to see as much as I could. Every week we saw at least one new place in the city and learned about it or experienced it.
8. Make friends. Being abroad can be difficult after an extended amount of time and you’re going to need people to talk to and hang out with. I was lucky in the sense that there were 5 other people in my group plus the guy who was in charge of all of us staying alive. Due to the small amount of people in the group we ended up hanging out all the time and getting really close. There was one exception of a douche bag that was in the group that everyone couldn’t stand, he was the only person that I had no issue saying goodbye to him.
9. Take chances and try new things. This includes new food, new activities and pretty much anything and everything you have a choice of doing in a new country! If you stick to what you’re comfortable with then you’re going to miss out on so much and I wouldn’t want that to happen to anyone.
10. Enjoy every second of it! I promise – even 4 months or longer is going to go by in a flash so make the most of it.
Have you gone abroad for an extended stay? Do you have any tips that I can add to the list?