Story by SJMC Study Abroad graduate student, Aisling Niestroy:
Twenty-nine inspired students. Three encouraging faculty members. Two historic countries. One unforgettable experience. The School of Journalism and Mass Communication sponsored a Study Abroad trip to London and Paris in June, and SJMC graduate assistant Aisling Niestroy shared what she learned during her time abroad.
The best thing about the SJMC Study Abroad program was that the majority of “book learning” was completed prior to leaving the country. We attended classes, conducted research, read articles and turned in assignments the week before beginning our journey. This afforded us the opportunity not only to learn from the scheduled media organization visits, but from the unforgettable experience of spending time in another country.
- Customs are different, but not necessarily foreign.
You might be in a foreign country, but you don’t have to act like it. Respect that people do things differently. If you ask your server to split the check multiple ways, you are likely to receive a dirty look. Pay attention to how people interact, how they carry themselves in public, and try not to stick out like a sore thumb.
- People don’t hate Americans.
If they do, they hide it well. While the French might have been annoyed with my crummy accent, they seemed appreciative I was making an effort to speak their language. The majority of people I met were really nice, especially when I dropped my wallet at the hotel in Paris, or when I left my phone in the back of a cab in Dublin. Both were returned to me. It helped that I tried to hold an honest conversation with every person I came into contact with. When you’re kind to others, they’re usually kind to you.
- Conversion rates will get you.
Believe me when I say you can buy too many souvenirs. It is unfortunate for both your wallet and your luggage. Although the things you buy may seem less expensive, they usually aren’t in the long run. As for the British Pound, say goodbye to half of your money.
- The best plan is a flexible one.
I received this same advice before attending SXSW Interactive. Going with the flow is one of your best options when exploring a new city. You can plan a day down to the minute, but something might happen to derail it, or something better might come along and change your mind.
- Tour, but don’t stick to the tourist places.
I went on a different kind of tour in every city – a bike and boat tour in Paris, a self-guided walking tour in London, and an evening bus tour in Dublin. Tours are a great way to learn about the history and culture of a place, and tour guides are the perfect people to ask for city suggestions. I turned to my tour guides for recommendations of non-tourist spots, and they did not disappoint. Another good way to discover local hangouts and restaurants is to wander and get lost (but not so lost you can’t find the way home).
- Try everything.
As a picky eater, I promised myself I would try absolutely everything before deciding I didn’t like it. So I did, and more often than not, I enjoyed it. However, this doesn’t just extend to food. Not a fan of museums, but they’re free in London? Go. You never know what you’ll fall in love with.
- Being abroad with friends is fun, but spending time alone is so good.
I spent my last two days in Dublin by myself. At first, being alone made me nervous, but then I started to enjoy it. Because I didn’t have to coordinate my plans with anyone else’s, I was able to visit more sights and take more time appreciating what was around me.
- People love to share their passions with you.
After listening to the employees at PR firm Weber Shandwick talk so highly of their jobs, I contemplated switching career paths. Even my various tour guides made me envious of what they do. Talking to people about the things they love is a wonderful way to turn strangers into acquaintances.
- Writing is a required skill for any media job.
Someone mentioned the importance of writing and communication skills at every business visit. It didn’t matter if the company was focused on journalism or public relations. Good writers make better employees.
- Everyone has pride for where they come from.
And they are not afraid to tell you all about it. They’re also often curious about where you’re from (even more so if it’s a recognizable place like Texas). I swapped hometown pride stories with many people I met throughout my trip, including the three Irish Aislings I found in Dublin. They practically convinced me to never come home.
For the most part, I was pretty confident I knew what to expect when I arrived in Europe. Thankfully, I was wrong. The study abroad program changed my life, and I am confident it can do the same for you.