1. I miss the friends I made. This was my first time being a part of a group in college and I wish I did it sooner. After coming home, I missed the people from the trip so much. I wish we all lived closer and went to the same college. Life gets in the way but we do try to stay in touch with each other. Experiencing everything with those people made the whole trip even better. I will forever look at the pictures and memories as one of the best times of my life.
2. The beautiful views. The cities and sights I saw were beyond incredible. Just in my home stay town of Bregenz was beautiful. We had the Pfänderbahn and other surrounding mountains that were incredible to look at, as well as, Lake Constance. We even swam in the lake multiple times. Traveling to cities like Prague, Munich and Venice all had different types of architecture that you just don’t see while in America.
3. The food. Oh my, the food was great. German food is centered around meat and potatoes, which is what I live on. But also, the freshness of the food. Europe, in general, does not have as many processed food options as America. They don’t keep as much food on hand. Plus, most of them have smaller refrigerators so they physically cannot keep a lot of food in the house. They have multiple “farmer’s markets” during the week while we only have them once a week. I noticed that prices of food were cheaper as well. Coming back, my stomach had to make an adjustment which made me look at what I was eating. When I miss German food now, I will dig up a recipe or go to a local German restaurant.
4. Exploring new cities. My program was great because I got to travel on the weekends. I visited other countries and enjoyed each of them. Learning to get around a new city with another new language, new currency and new culture is a hard adjustment to make within 2 days but you quickly make the adjustment and enjoy the changes. Being constantly busy and exploring cities is something I really miss, like any person who has studied abroad.
My time abroad has shed some light on the differences between United States and Europe, or at least the countries I visited. These only pertain to the countries of Austria, Germany, Italy and Czech Republic. I cannot say any other tips regarding the rest of Europe. Here are some useful things I learned and wish I knew beforehand:
- Water is not free. Neither is refills. But you can ask for local tap water. You might just get some odd looks though.
- In Austria, they have fountains around town that are drinkable only if they say “Trinkwasser”.
- All shops close early and are closed on Sundays. Even the grocery.
- They celebrate a lot of holidays where everything gets shut down.
- Beer is cheaper than water.
- You will see locals eating gelato and drinking alcohol at all hours of the day. Even at 10am.
- All toilets will flush differently.
- Also, not all bathrooms are free. Most public toilets cost 50 cents.
- Train bathrooms are even more confusing. Each will flush, turn on water and dispense soap differently.
- NEVER drink water from the tap on a train.
- When eating out, remember to ask for the check or it will not come.
- They also tend to be more quiet but that depends on the city and what you’re doing.
- Wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking everywhere.
- Try to book rooms and trains as soon as possible.
- Double check train tickets. If overnight train, make sure you have the right dates. (Even the train people can get it wrong)
- To save money, eat at the grocery store. Very cheap and good food.
- When packing, bring enough toiletries to last you a month. If not, they are fairly inexpensive to buy.
- Ask if the bread is free before eating. Sometimes they will charge you.
- If you happen to have a credit card with no foreign transaction fees, pay with that when going out in large groups. People can pay you in cash and you can avoid all the ATM fees.
- When visiting another city for a weekend, I recommend getting a metro, bus or tram pass to get around the city. It is well worth the price.
- Also, check out events happening in the cities you’re going to visit. (I happened to go to Vienna when the largest open air festival in Europe took place, so we got lucky)
- Explore your host city as much as possible. Try not to get a routine of same places.
- Naps will be necessary—but choose wisely when to take them. FOMO is real.
- Trains are always cold. Take a jacket or scarf with you.
- On weekends, pack for all weather.
- Not all trains will have Wi-Fi or outlets. (Austria trains seem to be of nicer quality)
- If you can’t sleep sitting up, then best of luck on trains.
- Netflix’s download feature came in handy on long train rides.