By Shoshana Feld-Sobol
Strategic and Corporate Communication (’17)
There are a ton of things that I love about Chapman University. But if I were to narrow it down to just a handful of my favorites, I would say that the travel course interterm program was one of the best for me. In just a month you can complete an entire class, and if you’re lucky, you can get a whole class wrapped up in just two weeks while also going abroad through the travel course program. That’s pretty ideal for any college student (I think). I’ve had the privilege of doing a travel course twice; my first trip took me just a hop, skip, and away to Northern California and the other took me to Panama! As someone who didn’t have the opportunity to go abroad, this travel course was something I was really looking forward to. While I loved being able to travel, get to know my professors on a personal level, and form a tight knit connection with my peers on the trip, there are definitely some lessons that anyone doing a travel course or studying abroad could learn from! So here you go!
- Do your homework on the country you’re going to.
Before you go to a new country make sure you research it. Figure out what the language is, what the people are like, if there is a dominant culture, or religion. Is there a big sports team there; what do the people do on the weekends; is there a big nightlife? Make sure you really feel comfortable with the place you are traveling to, or at bare minimum, know some important details about it. It might seem like busy work before you go, but I promise, it will just make you even more excited about going to the country, plus you’ll thank yourself when you get off the plane and know these details about the country you are now calling “home” for a little bit.
- Be aware of cultural norms.
This one is super important, not only so you are prepared for what you might experience, but also so that you stay safe. Make sure you do some research (or ask Siri) what the typical dress code in your host country is. If you’re a woman is it okay to show your shoulders, wear tight clothing, etc. You want to make sure that you pack culturally appropriate clothing so that once you get there you have apparel to wear without offending people, ostracizing yourself, or putting yourself in a dangerous position. Besides being aware of clothing norms, make sure that you know proper greeting gestures and how to say “please” and “thank you” and maybe “where’s the bathroom?!”
- Be aware of the neighborhood that you’re staying in.
If you’re on a travel course chances are you are staying in a hotel. Make sure that you have a general idea of the safety and culture of your neighborhood. For my Panama travel course we were staying in the nightlife district of Panama City. This meant that if we wanted to go and get a bite to eat at night there was always something open which was great, but it also meant that we had to be aware of our surroundings when we did go to a restaurant or get a snack since native Panamanians were in our area looking to get a drink or two.
- Plan ahead.
Are there specific things you want to do and see? Is there a traditional meal or food you want to try before you leave? Is there a festival going on that you want to attend? Just like in the United States there are always traditions and festivities going on in different countries. Make sure that you figure out what you want to do in your host country so that you can plan for this. When we were in Panama my friends and I knew we wanted to see a beautiful beach, try traditional Panamanian food, and experience the different climates of Panama. We got to do all of these three things by communicating to our professor and by planning ahead. When we had free times we went down to the beach by our hotel or walked around our neighborhood to find authentic plantains. If we didn’t plan ahead we might not have gotten to do all that we wanted to do before our trip was up.
- Live in the moment.
It is so easy to retreat to WiFi accessible places and forget that you’re in a completely different country with so much to explore and enjoy. When your abroad really try and remember to take it all in. Look up from your phone and observe the architecture of your city, take the time to talk to the locals at the restaurant or beach where you are. Do all the fun and spontaneous adventures that people suggest. Chances are you may never be in that place or that country again; so live it up while you can!
Going abroad is something I highly suggest in any capacity that you can. You learn so much about yourself, a new country, and create unbreakable bounds with your peers. It is a time in your life that you will always look back on with great memories. Make sure to take full advantage of all your host country has to offer and remember to live in the moment!