A day in the life of a study abroad student

Studying abroad is full of thrilling new opportunities, but when classes start, it’s easy to get into a routine that’s not exactly “exciting.”

8 a.m.: Alarm on my phone goes off. Hit snooze and go back to sleep.

8:10 a.m.: Alarm goes off again. Hit snooze again and go back to sleep again.

8:20 a.m.: Alarm goes off again. Hit snooze and turn on light, then lay back down in bed.

8:25 a.m.: Finally awake enough to get ready for the day. Pick out an outfit from the same clothes I’ve been wearing for the past month.

8:40 a.m.: Go downstairs for breakfast, which is toast with butter or jelly and tea or coffee. It’s not extravagant, but hey, it’s free.

9:00 a.m. – noon: French class, taught by an awesome man who usually teaches linguistics at the university. We do grammar exercises, listening activities, written work and group discussions. It’s extremely difficult, and my brain feels like it’s melting afterward.

Noon – 1:30 p.m.: Free time. I can get lunch at the cafeteria (usually sandwiches), eat a quick lunch in my room (usually involving Nutella), work on homework, or take a nap.

1:30 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.: European Integration and Politics class. We just started the second half of the course today, which is taught by a Parisian lawyer who speaks five languages.

Lille, France

After class, we’re free once again. On Mondays we usually have a program-sponsored event (tonight is a French and International Aperitif, which will have a sampling of wine, cheese and snacks), and typically once a week we have a group dinner with the professor from NC State. When there isn’t anything planned, I work on homework, go to the mall, walk around town, or go to a bar and watch soccer.

Now that I have this general schedule, which includes six hours of class, it’s easy to say “I’m tired,” and just hang out at the university. I have less than two weeks remaining in Lille, so I want to make the most of it. (If that means missing a homework assignment, oh well. In the long run, I think exploring Lille to the fullest will be more meaningful than preparing for a French debate about Internet pirating laws.)

I originally wrote this post for a local news website in Raleigh while I was studying abroad in Europe in July 2012.

Looking back over this post almost three years later, here are some takeaways:

  • Catch up on sleep whenever you can.
  • Eat the “free” food the program supplies (remember, you already paid for it) so you can save your money for excursions and fun nights out with new friends.
  • Go to class and do the work. Get the most out of our international education and impress the host professors.
  • At the same time, remember: This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t miss out on any unique experiences. Time management is key here. You don’t want to have to stay home to finish a paper while everyone else does something fun!

Recently read: ‘Travel as a Political Act’

I’m a big fan of Rick Steves. I find his TV shows, radio shows, guidebooks and lectures to be helpful and factual yet personal and honest. So when I came across his book Travel as a Political Act (the new, revised version), I bought it right then and there.

Rick Steves - Travel as a Political Act

This is not a guidebook. Here, Steves expands on ideas he promotes in his shows: basically, be an informed traveler. Research your destination. Learn about the culture. Understand the history and political environment. Come in with an open mind, absorb new information and incorporate those ideas into your worldview when you get home.

The book almost reads like a textbook. Each chapter is like a case study that focuses on a different topic or destination, like taxes in Denmark and exploring post-war society in former Yugoslavia. Steves doesn’t shy away from some touchy topics, like drug policy in the Netherlands and the difficult situation in Israel and Palestine. Some people might not agree with his views, but he explains how his personal experiences shaped his thoughts on the issues and presents both sides of arguments equally. It all comes back around to learning, understanding and making informed decisions as a traveler.

I probably enjoyed this book even more because I enjoy Rick Steves’ products and I agree with him on many points. Even still, I think this would be a thought-provoking book for any traveler.