“How to Have the Best Study Abroad Experience”

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9 AMERICAN HABITS I LOST WHEN I MOVED TO GERMANY

“9 AMERICAN HABITS I LOST WHEN I MOVED TO GERMANY”

by Vanessa Van Doren

1. Idle chit chat

During my first days of work in Germany, I made sure to be super friendly to all of my coworkers. Whenever anyone passed me in the hallway, I would grin maniacally, wave, and yelp, “Hi! How’s your day going?” The responses ranged from bemused looks to a total lack of reply. Confused but not discouraged, I continued trying to work my charms on my new friends.

One morning, I passed Roger, the department’s statistician. I laser-beamed him with my eyes and yelled out my usual “How are you?!” He paused for a moment, staring at me bewilderedly and scratching his fluffy, mad-professor hairdo.

“Do you really want to know?” he asked, one eyebrow raised.

“Uh, yes,” I stammered, unsure of what to make of this.

Twenty minutes later, he was still going strong on a breathless diatribe about how the students’ inferior grasp of basic stats and unbearably messy datasets were contributing to his ever-increasing workload.

Eventually sensing my discomfort, Roger paused and gave me a blank look. “Well you asked,” he muttered, rolling his eyes before continuing down the hall to his office.

2. Thin skin

Germans don’t like small talk, and they don’t like bullshit. Idle comments and feel-good messages have no place here. German flirting is particularly brutal; “Your big nose looks good on your face” is about the best compliment you can expect to get in Germany.

3. Fear of nudity

Especially in the former East, Freikörperkultur, or free body culture, is an important part of German identity. Decades of oppression led to a particular appreciation for the experience of freedom and nudity without a direct relationship to sexuality.

This can sometimes be difficult for Americans to buy, particularly when your coworkers casually invite you to the office’s nude sauna or suggest a naked swim in a nearby lake. Adjusting to this culture without getting weird took some grit, finesse, and more than a few awkward encounters.

4. Expectation of safety above all

The pervasive fear of litigation that infuses most public activities in the United States is virtually nonexistent in Germany. Germans take a much more casual, reasonable approach to public safety. On a hike in Sächsische Schweiz, a beautiful, mountainous region of Saxony, I once commented on the lack of guardrails and warning signs surrounding the steepest cliffs. “Only an idiot would fail to realize that a steep cliff is dangerous,” my German co-worker stated matter-of-factly.

A few months later, after a particularly brutal snowstorm, I remember seeing an older gentleman faceplant on the ice while waiting for the tram. He stood up, casually wiped the trickle of blood from his forehead, and resumed his position on the platform without so much as grimacing.

I love this attitude.

Every year, a local artist would put on a crazy party called “Bimbotown” in one of the warehouses in the Spinnereistrasse neighborhood of Leipzig. The party was crawling with machines that this artist made — giant metallic worms slithering across the ceiling, bar stools that would eject their occupants at the push of a button from across the warehouse, couches that caved in and dumped you into a secret room, beds that could be driven around the party and through the walls. It was an incredible event that would have never been allowed to happen in the US because of all the safety violations — someone could hit their head, fall off a bed, get whacked in the eye. And it was one of the best parties I’ve ever been to. . . . .

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How to fly with a bike: The cheap and easy method

“How to fly with a bike: The cheap and easy method”

via “Two-Wheel Travel”

How to fly with a bike: The cheap and easy method

If you plan to travel internationally with a bicycle, at some point you will be required to put your bike on a plane.

Taking a bike on an airplane as luggage can be a gut wrenching proposition.  In addition to the various and variable  fees imposed by the different airlines, there is the matter of packing and unpacking your bike for air travel, sourcing packaging materials and protecting your bike during transit.

The first time we combined bike touring and air travel I tediously and meticulously removed and bubble wrapped every single piece of both bikes, right down to water bottle cages.  I packed the pieces in re-enforced cardboard bike boxes, marked FRAGILE on every possible surface, crossed my fingers and was generally tense throughout the entire experience.   The whole process took about 1.5 hours per bike, on each end of the journey.

Other than the time and labor and stress involved, all went well.   We’ve done it few times since…  It always works, but it’s expensive, time consuming and stressful.

Isn’t there a better way to fly with a bike?

Pack your bike in a clear plastic bag.

With multiple benefits over packing a bike in a cardboard box, this is now our preferred method for flying with our bikes on an airplane.  At first we were skeptical, and honestly if we weren’t forced into using this technique by the lack of bike packing resources at the southern end of our Destination Dubrovnik tour last summer we would have never tried it.  It does feel a little like stepping off a cliff, until you realize that your bike will be treated much more carefully when packed in a clear plastic bag.

4 reasons why we like this technique.

  1. SimpleIt’s a plastic bag.  Think a big sandwich baggie for your bike, hold the mayo.  The CTC Plastic Bike Bags is specifically designed for this purpose.  If you order one before your trip, you can carry it in your panniers and it’s reusable.  No need to source anything at the last minute.   If not you can make your own.  In Dubrovnik we used a home-made version by doubling over clear plastic sheeting and duct taping the edges.  Slide the bike into the bag, fold down the top and tape it.  Natch!
  2. Quick– Total packaging/unpacking time including removal/reinstallation of pedals etc.. is about 15 minutes on either end of the trip.  This is fabulous compared with the one hour minimum build/pack time per bike when using a bike box.  With the plastic bag method almost the entire bike remains intact.
  3. Cheap – If you plan ahead. (Not our strong suit) then use the CTC Plastic Bike Bag or similar.  At present it retails for $13.50.  Not bad.  If you need to make your own, then the price is a little more variable, since you have to run around, find plastic sheeting and duct tape, which depending on your location at the time, may or may not be simple to locate. Still you shouldn’t have a problem.  Our homemade bags, sourced and made in Dubrovnik from plastic sheeting from the local garden shop cost us around $35 for two bags, not counting bus tickets running around town to find plastic.  Still a bargain when you consider how smooth the whole thing works. . . . .

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“USING AN ASIAN TOILET – THE ART OF SQUAT, GO, WIPE, AND THROW”

Because these things are a need-to-know for study abroaders 🙂 **DB

“Using An Asian Toilet – The Art Of Squat, Go, Wipe, and Throw”

BY Unknown via “GuideinChina”

Everything you need to know before squatting over an Asian toilet

I figured having been here almost two months, it was about that time. It’s a fact: come to Asia and at one point or another, you’ll have to squat while going to the bathroom. I’m fortunate enough to live in a Western styled dorm, so I rarely have to use that “other kind of toilet”, but I do use them and with a good amount of success. I realize I’m not the first person to write on the subject – Marco Polo probably did back during Mongol rule when squat toilets were just dirt holes (still primitive when compared to the outhouse). However, his description didn’t have the colorful pictures, translated signs, and detailed diagrams like mine does. There’s more to it than just the perfect squat angle you know. Take a read, you won’t regret it when your bowels are relieved and pants are dry.  And in case you were worried, it’s relatively clean for a post about toilets. So here’s Everything You Need To Know Before Going To The Bathroom In China.

 

First, a few quick notes

1. China is a BYOTP country.

If you didn’t catch that, BYOTP is “Bring Your Own Toilet Paper” – 卫生纸 “weishengzhi”. In some of the more upscale, fancy, or international places, toilet paper is provided. But on the whole, if you don’t bring your own, your two options are to A) ask the guy in the stall next to you to borrow some, or B) walk home with a little extra something in your underwear. You can buy single rolls of toilet paper in just about any small store for less than a quarter, and I would suggest keeping a pack of pocket tissues with you at all times.

2. Yes, that’s a trash can in your stall. No it’s not for trash.

I haven’t been able to get a definitive answer on this, but in most places in Beijing, flushing toilet paper is a no-no. The sewage system in Beijing (and I’m pretty sure all of China) is old and worn out, and while you might be okay flushing one piece by accident, two is pretty much a sin. That’s right, no need to hesitate, you can just throw it right in with all of the other brown and white tie-dyed toilet paper wads. I like to think that those cans get emptied once a day, but I know that’s a little optimistic. On the positive side, there’s never a need to ask where a bathroom is…the constant stench of festering dirty toilet paper (or toilet paper composting if you will)  is a dead giveaway.

3. Different Names – formal and not so formal:

Squat toilet
Squatty potty
Pit toilet . . . .

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44 Tips for Traveling in Italy

“44 Tips for Traveling in Italy”

by History in High Heels.

 

I get lots of questions about living in Florence and emails asking for tips for traveling in Italy. So I finally decided to put all of my tips and advice together in one place! I hope you find them useful and please share any tips you have.

1. Plan and Pre-Book major sights and attractions whenever possible, especially if you are traveling in mid-March (spring break) or between May and July.

2. Don’t use third party booking websites or companies. 
Companies like TickItaly will charge you an arm and a leg for a reservation you could easily make on the official museum website (or officially sponsored website) yourself. Here is a list of official museum/gallery websites:
Vatican Museums
Roman Forum and Colosseum (combo ticket)
Borghese Gallery (Rome)
The David (Accademia, Florence)
Uffizi (Florence)
Last Supper (Milan)
Doge’s Palace (Venice)
St. Mark’s (Venice)

3. Avoid restaurants with pictures of the food.
You can read more of my tips for selecting restaurants in Italy here.

4. Make the most of the high-speed train. 
It is only takes an hour and a half to get from Florence to Rome or Florence to Venice, and only thirty minutes to get to Bologna! Plus the trains are comfortable and reliable. They are my preferred way to travel around Italy. You can purchase tickets online or through a local travel agent in Italy. If you are in Florence, the lovely staff at FlorenceForFun can help you get great discounts!

5. Don’t let anyone help you put your luggage on the train or take it off.
This is a scam (mostly by gypsies) to force you to tip. If you are fine tipping, go for it, but be warned they are not the most upstanding characters.

6. Watch your bags as the train arrives and departs the station. 
Just incase somebody tries to hop on and steal something at the last minute.

7. Be prepared to lug all of your luggage down cobblestone streets and up stairs (and on and off trains). 
If your bag is too heavy or large to do this yourself, you need to rethink what you have packed! There are lots of streets and squares taxis can’t go down, so even if you cab it, you still might have another block or two to haul your stuff. Elevators can also be a rarity and you will often find random small sets of steps you have to navigate.

8. Bring a portable luggage scale, especially if you are traveling via discount European airlines. 
They are serious about bag weight.

9. Get up early every once and a while. 
Many cities, like Rome and Venice, have a completely different feel without the hoards of tourists. It is worth it to get an early start (especially in the hot summer) to get a different perspective of the city and to see many of the monuments not littered with people.

10. Always carry cash. 
Most places will not let you use your debit or credit card for smaller purchases and restaurants don’t split bills.

11. Wear comfortable shoes.

12. Look up if your bank has any affiliations in Italy (i.e. Bank of America and BNL) to avoid service charges and fees.

13. Unlock your phone and pop in an Italian SIM card. 
If you have an iPhone that is out of contract (i.e. over two years old) this is fairly easy to do and Italian SIMs are inexpensive.

14. Don’t forget sunscreen.

15. Don’t put cheese on seafood pasta. 
Despite how delicious the cheese is here, Italians do not put it on everything. . . . .

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Top 10 Rookie Study Abroad Mistakes

“Top 10 Rookie Study Abroad Mistakes”

by Jenna Rice via “Huffington Post

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Your guide to avoiding the most common and overlooked slip-ups while spending a semester abroad.

The semester I lived in Europe was without a doubt the best time I’ve spent in college. While I had more fun than I could’ve ever anticipated, I also made my fair share of slip-ups. Everyone is bound to make a handful of rookie study abroad mistakes. However, these are the 10 you should try to avoid at all costs to ensure you have the most incredible experience possible. And if you’ve already studied abroad, hopefully you can look back and laugh when you realize you’ve made most of these yourself.

Not Staying In Youth Hostels.

If you’ve never traveled abroad, the idea of staying in a hostel might seem a little scary (thank you, horror movies). But in all seriousness, it’s just the opposite. Not only will staying in hostels save you some major cash, but you’ll also meet really interesting people from other countries. During my first youth hostel stay in Paris, my friend and I were the only two girls in this six-bed room with four guys. And to be honest, it was a blast! We ended up hanging out with our German and Australian roommates the entire weekend, and in turn we learned a lot about their cultures.

Overdoing The Partying.

If your mission is to party until dawn at the hottest nightclubs, then by all means, rage on. However, I’m pretty sure most of us sign up to study abroad to see beautiful sights and immerse ourselves in different cultures. I’m not saying you shouldn’t drink, but just use your best judgement and pace yourself or risk wasting a precious day in Europe lying in bed with a hangover instead of gallivanting alongside the Ponte Vecchio or Eiffel Tower.

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No Indulging.

This might be a given, but trying to diet while spending a semester abroad is probably the worst form of self-torture one can endure. During my time in Italy I ate all of the pizza, pasta and gelato my heart desired. And trust me, I don’t regret a single bite. Plus, the amount of miles I walked each day helped to burn off some of the extra calories. Despite stuffing my face, I actually lost a couple pounds when I returned to the states. Imagine that!

Missing Your Flight.

This may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s easier than you think. After a long night of partying in Barcelona (reference #2), my friend and I pressed our snooze button a few too many times and had to rush to the airport. Upon entering, we realized we were at the wrong terminal and had to hop on a shuttle to the correct one. With less than an hour until our departure time, the airport personnel wouldn’t let us even go through security. So, we had to pay for a new flight (ouch!) and waste four hours in the airport. Make sure to leave plenty of time to ensure you catch your plane, train or bus to avoid a major headache while abroad.  . . .

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5 Handy Travel Tips for Dealing With a Canceled Flight

Because Cancelled Flights can also happen to Study Abroad Students **DB

“5 Handy Travel Tips for Dealing With a Canceled Flight”

by Catherine Northington via “WallStCheatSheet

For all the brilliant experiences and opportunities that air travel has brought us since its advent, there are a few major pitfalls to cope with in the process. Even the most cautious planners among us can’t predict erratic weather conditions, airline snafus, or other factors leading to cancellations. You can, however, follow these five tips to make the best of a canceled flight at the last minute!

1. Keep essentials in your carry-on

There are tons of helpful resources online when it comes to packing a reasonably sized carry-on bag of essential items. USA Today shares this article covering anything a traveler might need in a pinch, while The Every Girl offers itemized, female-specific lists to suit any travel occasion. Crucial items for any traveler include a toothbrush, hairbrush, moisturizer, headache medicine, chargers, headphones, and a sweater.

For additional tips on efficient packing, check out Lifehacker’s helpful tutorial on the subject.

2. Rebook by phone

Brett Snyder of Cranky Concierge, an air-travel assistance firm, recommends that flyers immediately call the airline’s customer service number upon learning of a flight’s cancellation. Real Simple explains that this easy move will not only eliminate the need to join a long line of frustrated travelers at the check-in counter, but it will also expedite the entire rebooking process.

Always keep the airline’s phone number handy in your wallet or phonebook in the event of last-minute emergencies. USA Today reports that there are three major airlines that offer a “Rule 240″ clause, meaning that the carrier in question will seek out an available seat on another flight out of the airport — even if it’s on a competitor’s flight!

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