Don’t be afraid to live with a host family
Don’t even think twice about it — if you have the chance, then do it. You will not regret it. And chances are, if you do end up with a horrible, nightmarish, unfathomable family, most programs let you switch. If you are trying to get fluent in a language, staying with a host family is a MUST.
Why do I say this? Because I didn’t stay with a host family. For fear of being stuck with a frightening, overbearing French woman who judged everything I did, I stayed in the dorms at my university. This was probably the biggest mistake I could have made. My first two weeks there were spent crying and alone on my bed, looking at the paint peeling off the walls and listening to my elusive neighbor sing what sounded like Mary J. Blige songs. Until I had Wifi, McDonalds became my new office (and a great place to steal toilet paper from until I found a grocery store). I had envisioned myself being in cahoots with my other cool, quirky, French friends. We would swig back bottles of wine as we chuckled, exchanging glances of friendship and thoughts of “Oh my god! What an incredible cultural experience we are having!” But alas, this was far from reality. Don’t risk losing out on an awesome opportunity to have an authentic cultural experience and improve your fluency in a language by being too afraid to live with a host family.
Don’t drink too much Pastis and sleep with someone you met at a club
I mean, you could, but you’re probably better off if you don’t.
Don’t be too scared to travel alone
Studying abroad in Europe for Americans usually means hopping around to every city possible in as many countries as you can. And there is no shame in that. In fact, you should relish your newfound ability to travel easily. If your friends aren’t keen on traveling, or if you want to explore a place where no one else wants to go, don’t let that stop you. You might meet a Lebanese photographer on the bus who has traveled the world and wants to tell you his life story, or a group of Belgians who will gladly get drunk with you. Traveling alone can be exhilarating and unforgettable, but you have to go about it in the right way. Do your research and make sure wherever you are staying is safe and easy to get to. My best experiences were in hostels that had social events for the guests. Chances are, the other people staying at the hostel are trying to get the same thing out of it that you are: see the attractions of the city, meet new people, get belligerently drunk, and have a crazy hook up with a foreign person (for that clutch, “this one time I was abroad” story). Just throwing it out there, guys.
Stop comparing things to your home country
If you do this, you are almost guaranteed to be miserable. A lot of your travels will probably incorporate trying to find a café with oh-so-coveted “Free WiFi” and a bathroom. America is great at doing certain things, like having 24-hour convenience stores and $1 pizza slices. However, we suck at a lot of other things that are awesome elsewhere, like having delicious crepe stands and ancient historical sites sprinkled about like it ain’t no thang.
Don’t stay in your comfort zone
Chances are, you won’t get many other opportunities to live in a foreign country for a long period of time. Don’t let the saying “Youth is wasted on the young” be true. See things, do things, try things, go places, eat anything and everything, meet new people. Regret shouldn’t be a “thing” when you’re living in a foreign country and have an abundance of new experiences at your fingertips. Spread your wings and broaden those horizons.