Study Abroad Files: The First Few Weeks
At the end of last winter quarter I packed up my room, moved out of housing, and boarded a plane to Europe. Coming straight from finals, adjusting to the pace of life in another country, dorm, and program was so jarring–nothing could have prepared me for the lifestyle and culture shock I was to experience.
It was hard adjusting to navigating a new cityscape and transit system, and getting used to a new schedule–9:30am daily classes and loads of walking around the city. Vienna completely shuts down on Sundays, and that means all stores are closed (it's the Austrian law), so grocery planning for the week had to be thought out in advance. Hardest still was figuring out a financial plan, as I had to balance discovering new restaurants and cafes with the constraints of a college student's budget.
Here are some helpful tips based on what I have learned from my study abroad experience in Europe.
- European supermarkets have almost everything you could need, from razor blades to disposable cameras, but if you are in need of something incredibly specific, either make sure to bring it from the US or prepare to explain with the help of Google translator exactly what you’re looking for! Most grocery stores or pharmacies won't stock your go-to products, so either prepare to experiment with European brands, or bring your skincare and makeup with you!
- In that vein, don’t go out of your way to buy things before you leave! I splurged on black high waisted jeans before I left (my favorite wardrobe staple) but I could've found the same style of pant for a much cheaper price in Europe.
- Only pack the clothes you love. I ended up packing t-shirts I didn’t adore, and now that I’ve bought stuff from Vienna markets, I don’t wear them. Now they’ll just take up space in my luggage on the way back to the US, and looking back, I definitely wish I didn’t pack them!
- Pack for all weather scenarios. Spring time Vienna was forecasted from 40º F to 70º F. In the second week it reached 72º F, but one week hovered around 35º F and lightly snowed! I completely neglected to bring any leather or rain-proof shoes. My converse were soaked and my feet were perpetually cold (but that’s better than ruining my suede ankle boots).
- It's hard figuring out what to eat. Eating out got tiring (and expensive) after a while, but our dorm kitchen had no oven and had awful pans that stick to everything. I've eaten a lot of cheese and crackers, carrots, celery and peanut butter, bananas, cereal and milk, yogurt, nuts–things that don't require any cooking. Viennese supermarkets don't sell cooked grilled chicken, something I learned after going to three different supermarkets and asking in mangled German, and other American grocery staples (such as black beans).
- Find the library and study spaces before you desperately need them! I realized too late in the game that I needed to work in a library for a few hours, and had to figure out where it was and how to get access to it with limited time. Finding a quiet cafe can also be a struggle, as cafes around the university are very social and chatty spots. Fortunately, the coffee shop culture lets you linger after ordering–waiters won't come and rush you with a check, but will only bring it if you request, and there's no assumption that you'll leave after a certain amount of time.
Most likely, your study abroad experience will go by in a flash. I had to remind myself to take a minute to breathe, walk around the city, and truly appreciate studying in an entirely different country!