About halfway through my time studying abroad in Spain, I was robbed. Not out on the road, nor late at night; but in my homestay. In the one place in Spain I should've been safe. In the one place I was supposed to call home.
When I chose to study abroad in Sevilla, Spain, my two main goals were simple:
1. become fluent in Spanish and 2. travel Europe. I was fortunate to have front-loaded my academic credits on campus in Ithaca, so I wasn't super interested in the 'study' part of 'study abroad' because I didn't necessarily need the credits I'd be taking there to graduate.
As a result, I travelled to a different city almost every weekend, hitting up places like Ibiza, Barcelona, London, Lisbon, Milan, Athens, Paris and Amsterdam back to back to back. I was elated. It was so eye-opening to experience a new city every weekend and it really widened my perspective on the world. I got to see first-hand the diversity of cultures, foods, languages and even began to appreciate the superior urban planning that exists throughout Europe (@america idk what's going on with you, but do better). It was pretty amazing to be able to take the metro/trains almost everywhere and rely on efficient public transportation or pedestrianised streets to get around in each new place I visited.
My class schedule was optimised for travel - I didn't have Friday classes. I had classes on Mondays and Tuesdays, and only 1 on Thursday mornings, so I was able to leave Sevilla on Thursday evenings to have a long weekend wherever I was visiting. I also took the occasional Monday off when the return ticket was cheaper than on Sunday night. I initially arrived in Sevilla on August 22, and got into the groove of my class schedule by mid to late September and went to Ibiza on September 29th, just in time to see David Guetta's closing show at Hï Ibiza.
When I was packing to study abroad, I read a bunch of blogs and watched Youtube videos to help me pack, but I couldn't find anything concrete about finances. I didn't know which of my credit cards wouldn't charge me international transaction fees, and I didn't want to be hit with sky-high bank fees to withdraw cash once I was already in Europe. So I withdrew Euros in the US. A lot of Euros. Too many euros.
I kept my money with my passports in my room in a safe cash box with a key that I had on my person at all times. Yet as I was packing to go to Ibiza and went to take out some euros as spending money, I realised that I was suddenly strapped for cash. I was missing over 80% of the euros I had brought. And guess what else? My roommate didn't have any more cash either. It had only been a little over a month being in Spain.
I know what you're thinking. To this day I still think it too.
We immediately moved out of that homestay and moved in with a new host mother, a sweet lady named María José who had been hosting exchange students for over 34 years. And eventually our former host family gave me back a little under half of the money that I had reported missing; out of "gOoD WiLL".
Now listen to me.
The amount of money she returned to me, you don't just give to somebody out of "gOoD WiLL". Especially not in Spain. Especially not in that economy. Must be some great will they have over there.
After moving to our new homestay, I had the whole second half of my study abroad experience to enjoy and savour. It was a semester of exploration, immersion, adventure and most of all of learning. I learnt a lot about myself, and a lot about the world, and I have a newfound appreciation for the world as a result.
My 7 Europe Study Abroad Survival Tips
After that robbery, I want to help others to optimise their own study abroad or travel experiences by avoiding situations like that one and lots of others I faced. So without further ado, here are my 7 survival tips for study abroad:
Check which of your credit cards work! Go on your credit card company's website. Call your bank. Talk to a friend that's been to Europe before with the same credit card as you. Find out which card works with no fees and don't bring too much cash.
Bring a good European & UK adapter I know this sounds obvious, but before you go, check if your device chargers fit properly into the European adapter. My large Macbook charger fell out of my adapter every time I plugged it in, so you want to be sure that it fits tight so you don't have that problem.
Check the temperature differences BEFORE you get to Europe If you're like me, and will be based in Sevilla, it'll be hot for a lot of the time from August to November, and get down to about 10°C/50°F in the early mornings and nights in December. But if you plan to travel to Paris or Amsterdam in the late Fall for example, it'll be pretty cold. You don't wanna find yourself without a jacket in -1°C/30°F weather when you want to go to Paris or without a swimsuit when you want to visit Ibiza.
Bring a duffel bag or big backpack for travelling Yes, flights are cheap! RyanAir & Vueling are great airline options with low fares, but if you don't have a big enough backpack or duffel bag, you might find yourself without enough baggage space for weekend trips. Also bonus points if you get a body satchel for walking around when you're touring new cities!
Bring a water bottle When you're travelling from city to city, you're always gonna need water. Pack a water bottle, empty it before the security line at the airport, and refill it once you're in the terminal. Don't waste money buying vending machine water in every city you visit. Oh, and onboard those low fare airlines? No free water either.
Get a local data plan I have T-Mobile in the US which allows me to roam in Europe with speeds up to 256kbps, but I found that to be too slow when on the go. In Spain, a Vodafone sim card with 50GB of data and unlimited calls was only 15€ for 28 days with much better data speeds and calling capabilities too. Definitely worth it.
Make friends in your classes! I know this seems obvious, but trust me, classes are different in Europe and you'll want to have the support. I direct-enrolled in La Universidad de Sevilla which means I took classes alongside local Spanish students in Spanish, and I found that their note taking style was different, and of course their notes are better because they can understand the professor better since they're native speakers. They know how to pass the classes, so make the effort to make friends to help you out.
And that's it!
If you or anyone you know is planning to study abroad or travel in Europe for an extended period of time for the first time, send them this list or even put them in touch with me. I loved every second of my experience, and I'd love to do whatever I can to make your experience better still.
Until next Sunday.