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Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me?

Why Didn’t Anyone Tell Me?

People tell you a lot of stuff when you go abroad.


“Buy plug adapters”

“Watch out for pickpockets”

“Get to know the locals”
But trust me, there’s a whole lot they don’t tell you. I’ve got a few big points to share at only 3 weeks in, so I’m sure the list will be a mile long come June. But here are the basic 4 things no one told me before coming abroad.




This might seem like common knowledge, but it’s really not. The first two weeks in your new country are going to BURN YOU OUT. You’re thrust into a new environment full of strange people, rules, and food to adjust to. You’re at the beginning of your program, and you obviously need to make friends. It’s like the first week of college all over again, and we all remember how much fun that was. It’s exhausting trying to be friendly and nice to everyone you meet, and you find yourself running around all the time.


Trying to cram sightseeing an entire city into the first week of your stay is not possible, but also exactly what everyone does. You have multiple months to see it all, so don’t try running around the whole town while you’re still jet-lagged. Take a step back, spend a little time making your room feel like home, and try to aim for doing one new thing every day. Everyone in London may always be in a rush, but trust me, they’re never as frenzied as a visiting American. Brits do whatever they want on their own time, usually abiding by no schedule you’re familiar with. So, similarly…




This may not be true for every country. Right now, I can only speak for England. And more specifically, college-age kids in England. But since I’ve been here, I don’t sleep, eat, or go out the way I used to.


When most collegiate Americans head to Europe for a semester, one of the biggest things on their mind is the lower drinking age. But the drinking culture in the UK is NOTHING like back home. For one thing, Europeans are much more used to the concept of alcohol at an earlier age than Americans, so the novelty of binge-drinking has largely worn off by college. But that doesn’t mean there’s no drinking, because there’s still  A LOT.


At a typical American university, students drink recreationally on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Sometimes, even less than that. This complies with the fact that most Americans have class 5 days every week. But the average Brit only has class for 3 days per week, so they go out whenever they want. Pubs and nightclubs are open in London every single day, and a Tuesday night can be just as much fun as a Friday.


My point is, don’t feel bad for taking some time off to get adjusted. Europeans may go out to the bars upwards of 4 times a week, but they drink far less at a time than most Americans are used to. At Queen Mary it’s totally normal to catch up on homework on a Saturday night after you’ve already been out Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday of that week. This also means Brits tend to sleep and eat on similarly relaxed schedules than you’re used to. Weekends are still fun here, but weeknights get a little more love in the UK than in the states.




Yeah, all those new friends you’re making? You can’t hang out with them literally all the time. You’ll have different classes, schedules, and responsibilities at some point. This is when people start to freak out, because as human beings we tend to cling to the familiar. Even if “familiar” means a group of Americans you met for the first time 2 weeks ago.


Don’t be afraid to walk around by yourself. Take a bus somewhere new and get lunch alone. Ask locals for an obscure recommendation. Don’t confine or restrict yourself to what you think you should be doing. You’re in a new country, so do something different. But if you’re going to explore alone, be smart about it! Bring a little extra cash for a cab in case you get REALLY lost, and always remember a map. Because Google Maps just doesn’t work without WiFi.




Seriously, people, I cannot stress this enough. Nobody recommends a vaccination before you travel to London, but guess what? Your immune system will still betray you. It might not happen right away. In fact, it will probably take a few weeks for your body to realize you aren’t on temporary vacation and these foreign germs flying around you might just be here to stay. I’m not someone who’s prone to sickness, but I’ve had a terrible sore throat for the last week.


At first I thought it was just bad luck, but I slowly started to realize that almost every American I know has been ill in some small capacity. We’ve all been traveling through germ-infested airports and crowded tube trains, so I guess we should have seen it coming. But I really didn’t.


It sucks, but you can’t let it ruin your first few weeks abroad. Chug some orange juice, take a nap, pop a throat lozenge, and get back out there. Because as tempting as it is to skip class when you’re feeling under the weather, the last thing you want to do is get behind early in a brand new school system you’re not used to.


**This list is by no means exhaustive, I am an expert in nothing, and this is really just me complaining. London is worth all the struggles.

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