I “met” Lexa and Caroline, Founders of Sippin’Sangria, (a Travel blog) while conducting research for our College Scoops Program. Lexa and Caroline are recent grads of Butler University. They met while studying abroad in Alcala de Henares and have been travel buddies ever since. Instead of jumping right into a job, they decided to take a gap semester and travel all over Europe while also working as English Assistants for CIEE.
Lexa and Caroline provided their inside scoops on where to eat in and around Butler University. We had so much fun we decided to collaborate on another project. As many students are packing their bags for a semester away, we thought it would be helpful to share their advice for what to pack or not pack, how to get into the proper mindset when living and studying overseas, and what to expect when you repatriate back home. Sit back, relax and maybe take a note or two as you will be more prepared for your adventure after hearing what Lexa and Caroline recommend.
Q: What are some things to know & do before you venture off on a study abroad program?
1) Finding the best program takes time. Make a list of the things you want or need to have the best experience. For example, I wanted to travel with a group from my university, study in a Spanish country and live with a host family. Another tip is to start by looking at what your University offers because some programs will cover your tuition, which makes for a pretty good deal.
2) Research the weather yourself. We were misled by how warm Spain was supposed to be. I had to buy half a new wardrobe for the cooler weather. Really do try to take less clothing because you’ll end up buying A LOT.
3) It’s going to cost more than you expect. While budgeting is good, sometimes the experience is worth the money, so don’t be too stingy and plan on spending a little more than you initially planned.
4) Coming back is actually harder than going. Try to stay in contact with your friends from abroad so you have a support system when you return.
Q: What recommendations do you have for a student leaving for a semester away?
1) Enjoy every moment… It flies!
2) Try to make friends with locals. One of my biggest regrets is that I stayed in my comfort zone when it came to branching out and meeting new people.
3) Learn to laugh at yourself and your mistakes quickly. It makes traveling a lot less stressful.
4) Take a credit card that doesn’t charge you international fees and always take multiple cards.
5) Look up each country you’re going to visit on Pinterest. The site has a lot of info about a country’s culture, basic phrases to know, etc. Pinterest also has fun city guides that’ll give you great ideas on what to see.
Q: What is culture shock like?
1) Prepare to pay for public restrooms. Train stations, bus stops, and the like will cost you between $.50 and $1.00. You’ll also have to buy something to get a code that allows you to use the restroom at a restaurant like McDonald’s.
2) The service you receive at restaurants will be very different. Waiters will bother you less, and you’ll have to flag them down for the check. Also, tipping is not a thing like it is here. You can tip them if you thought the experience was really good.
3) Hotel rooms tend to be smaller than we’re used to in the U.S., so be prepared to live in a very tiny space for a few days (but hey, you’ll be out exploring all the city has to offer anyway right?).
4) Sometimes to get the light to work in a hotel, you have to insert a key card. It’s a way for the hotels to conserve energy so you don’t leave the lights on. Just make sure you check for these key card plug-ins before calling the front desk.
5) Get used to not having wifi everywhere. You can often find a restaurant or coffee shop that offers it to customers, but usually with a code after you purchase something. So make sure to turn off your data. On the plus side, not having 24/7 access to your phone forces you to enjoy the city around you.
Q: Any items you should have brought on your trip that you didn’t?
1) My selfie stick! I didn’t bring it because people kept telling me I looked weird with one. Once I got my phone stolen, trusting someone to take a photo of me with my phone was really hard. Honestly, everyone uses selfie sticks abroad and they do take some pretty awesome pictures of you and your friends.
Q: What were some of your favorite memories from your time away?
1) One of my favorite memories is the day I finally learned how to navigate the streets of my host city on my own. At first, I was nervous that I would get lost or confused. I made it, and the walk was so peaceful, it made me appreciate the Spanish way of life even more.
2) I turned 21 just a few weeks into my semester abroad and most people flaked out on doing anything with me. I actually met and became friends with Lexa because she went to a Real Madrid soccer game with me to celebrate. We ended up meeting some really fun study abroad students from other countries and had an absolute blast.
3) While we were touring in Madrid, we decided to try and catch the sunset at the Temple of Debod. With only 10 minutes, we sprinted through the crowded streets and saw one of the most beautiful sunsets overlooking the city.
Q: Any last travel tips?
1) No matter how much you plan, something will catch you off guard and take you by surprise. Sometimes you’ve just got to roll with it.
2) Night trains and buses are going to be your best friend.
3) Make a blog/bring a journal-you’ll have so many crazy experiences that it’ll be hard to keep straight all of the amazing things you did. Having a place to record everything only enriches your travel memories.
Check out Lexa and Caroline’s website, Sippin’Sangria, for more helpful travel tips.