“Did you even go abroad?”
If you went abroad, you’ve definitely heard this question before. This question, thrown out sarcastically by a friend, typically follows a long story that begins with the phrase, “When I was abroad…” I’ve found it difficult not to talk about my experiences and always love hearing about my friends’ adventures.
When the airplane took off a year ago, catapulting me from New York to Europe, I knew my life would never be the same.
But I didn’t know how my semester abroad would change me. Studying in a foreign country revolutionized my idea of an education and of learning, reminding me that the best life lessons might not hide tucked away on a shelf in a book. This epic experience allowed me to explore new ideas and cultures on a first-hand basis, as opposed to taking a professor’s or an author’s word for it.
Over the course of four months, I explored many places, if only for a mere weekend: Bath, England; London, England; York, England; Haworthe, England; Salisbury, England; Stratford-Upon-Avon, England; Edinburgh, Scotland; Florence, Italy; Venice, Italy; Rome, Italy; Amsterdam, Netherlands; Brussels, Belgium. Each city boasted an entirely unique culture, revealed through the sites, food and, most importantly, through the people.
Before leaving for each destination, I carefully and thoroughly researched each city, determined to discover the best things to do. Although this detailed research took a lot of time (and ended up feeling like another class), it was totally worth it. When we arrived in whichever city we were visiting this weekend, we didn’t have to waste time wondering what to do. My travel plans ensured that we could get straight to our adventures. Websites like Trip Advisor and Yelp offer recommendations from other travelers and help narrow down a great list of activities in a given city.
While Trip Advisor and Yelp provide great culinary recommendations to food-loving students on a budget, Michelin’s list of Bib Gourmands is a little known gastronomic secret. Essentially, Michelin creates a list of affordable restaurants in each city. Restaurants that make the list “offer excellent food at a reasonable price.” Definitely check out Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list before heading to a city abroad, if you want the best food at the best prices.
I would recommend Airbnb to any group of students visiting a foreign place. First, the site offers low prices on awesome accommodations, allowing you to select your location and amenities based on how much money you are willing to spend. Second, and perhaps most importantly, Airbnb connects you to wonderful hosts, who serve as a valuable insight into the culture of the area you are visiting. My hosts in Venice, Italy and in Brussels, Belgium stood out the most, as both offered recommendations and information about their cities that I wouldn’t have been able to find online.
My travels abroad taught me more than how to navigate the airport by myself or that Shakespeare was born in 1564. Instead, traveling while abroad helped me realize that the best place to learn is the global classroom and that the best teacher is often experience.