Don’t live with a host family. Yeah, you might immerse yourself in the culture, have your “mom” cook you authentic meals, get your laundry done, blah blah blah, but that’s only the beginning. Sometimes you just want to drink a mug of whisky at 2PM wearing only a duvet cover without your Señora asking questions. You also can’t bring home one-night stands with names like Thibaud, Axel, and Kristofferson to the twin sized bunk bed you share with a chaste Japanese student. For every one story of an amazing family and true bonding, I’ve heard fifty more of hot water rationing, paltry meals, and being called racial slurs to your face while completing a list of chores.
Don’t behave in any kind of normal, “not-abroad” manner. Studying abroad is like freshman year of college all over again. Everyone is nervous, out of his or her element, and really eager to make new friends. The only difference is that in three months/one year you’ll be back at your state school in the U.S. and the majority of these relationships will be more fleeting than the Spanish past perfect subjunctive. So let your freak flag fly. The euro-version of you can partake in any of the following activities without them ever tarnishing your domestic social identity: dressing like a total clown, going to cheesy theme nights at seven story mega-clubs, showering twice a week, drinking wine with every meal, and shamelessly making out with four guys in one night. What happens abroad never makes it through U.S. customs. You will have nothing to declare.
Don’t go to class. Duh. You have more important things to do like sleeping, eating and being a walking cliché.
Don’t forget the most important items. So you’re getting ready to leave and all your mom’s friends tell you to “pack some peanut butter, I heard from my cousin’s sister’s friend that they don’t have that in Europe.” These people are lying to you. Plus, everyone knows Nutella is better anyway. The real gems you want are Nyquil and deodorant. I can guarantee you will get sick, and not the “just a cold” kind either. It turns out chain smoking, clubbing until 6AM and spending your weekends jetting around the EU because “it’s so accessible” are not healthy habits. Screw the foreign pharmacy and cuddle with Nyquil all day. Also, European deodorant is for pussies. It will be roll-on or aerosol and have odor protection appropriate for a seven-year-old girl riding around on a tricycle. All brands will smell like a baby’s freshly powdered nutsack. Pack the hard stuff.
Don’t fall in love. Americans romanticize Europe, and for good reason. As stupid as it sounds, everything abroad is done better when you’re part of a pair. Strolling hand in hand, park bench hookups, lazy Sundays in bed, shared life-changing experiences. Sometimes it’s just too easy to let your life become the movie love child of Sofia Coppola and Jean Luc Godard. But seriously, cut it out! You’re going home, and sooner than you think. You’ll be jaded and your bank account will be empty. You don’t need another thing to quietly weep over during your transatlantic flight.