By Lauren Bannon
As of March 1st, I have been in Thessaloniki, Greece, for one month. The time has flown by and I couldn't be happier with my new home. The people, the city, and the cuisine surprise me every single day. My classes are interesting and in full swing. I live a five minute walk from the sea. Can I repeat – I LIVE BY THE SEA. For a girl that has spent her whole life in Iowa with the Cedar and Iowa Rivers being the most exciting bodies of water nearby, to say that I live by the sea is a thrill in itself.
This wonderful first month has already taught me quite a bit about myself and made me realize a few pointers I would like to pass on to other study abroad-ers.
DO keep a blog. Your family and friends back home will appreciate getting all the little details that you may not be able to portray through all your photos or in a quick Skype call. My mom loves sending my personal blog posts on to her friends and to my grandmas. Plus, as much as I love my mom, she sometimes gets facts a little confused, so to make it easy for her I put it all down on an easy to find link!
My very excited photo with the Platform 9 ¾ sign…
And my friend Lisa’s. Which would you rather show your friends back home?
DO something for yourself to remember this trip. If you like to draw, draw. If you like paint, buy water colors. If you’re like me and you like to write or jot down your thoughts, buy a notebook or do a private blog. You’re on this study abroad trip to follow your dreams, so do something that will make fulfilling this desire memorable and extra special to you. Plus there’s something wonderful about looking back at this someday in the future and physically holding your feelings from this time in your hands.
DO try to learn some of the language. I know for me Greek has been very difficult to pick up and it can often be frustrating, but I know if I stick with it I’ll be so much happier than if I gave up. Even if it just means basic conversation and being able to ask for my favorite foods at the market, I want to say I could do something with Greek. It’s also very touching how happy Greeks are when we even try to speak the language – they also love trying to speak English in return!
DO travel, but DON’T travel so much you don’t get to know your city. Yes, a big part of studying abroad is traveling your country and others nearby, but don’t get so caught up in being gone every weekend that you don’t get to know the culture, people, and cuisine of the city you’re in. Not only will you save money not traveling every weekend, but you’ll find hidden gems others in your group missed out on because they weren’t home.
DO budget. I mentioned this in my pre-departure tips, but I’ll say it again. It’s important to realistically budget before you leave and after you’ve been in your country for a few weeks. What do you spend weekly on groceries and eating out? How expensive is it really to stay in Paris? Can I afford a whole week in Crete? It’s much better to come home with some extra cash or splurge on your last trip or two than to call your parents with two months left and break the news that you can’t afford food until you come home.
DO take your classes seriously. It’s called STUDY abroad for a reason. You’re here taking classes that often are important to your major and your GPA back home – either general education courses or core classes. I know in my case my two finance courses, my marketing course, and my communication studies class all transfer back towards my majors and minor and will go towards my Iowa cumulative GPA. I really don’t want to mess that up!
DO let yourself get homesick, but DON’T let it control you. It is totally understandable to get homesick at some point or another. I know my first real moment came randomly when I was in Brussels for the weekend. I had been in Greece for three weeks and loving every minute of it, and then there I was munching away on Belgian chocolate when I realized how much my family would love Brussels. I immediately felt that sinking feeling of being homesick and sent my mom a fairly emotional “I miss you” text. Thankfully, my mom knows exactly what to say to make me feel better and it went away quickly, but it was really real in that moment.
I’m also the first to admit that sometimes I get hit with pretty bad FOMO (fear of missing out) on occasion. When I think about missing my little sister graduating high school in May or knowing how many of my good friends graduate college this year and move into the world of grown-ups I get really sad, but you just need to tell yourself that you’re making an experience of a lifetime. Whenever I wish I was home I remind myself that in six months I’ll be sitting in a classroom back in Iowa City happy to be back in my comfort zone, but missing the life I made in Greece.
Finally, DON’T leave with regrets.
Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime experience. Don’t go home with any regrets. If there’s a food you want to try, a place you want to see, or a new adventure you want to jump into, do it. I’m a person that tries really hard to live regret-free. I can name off the few things I regret not doing in the last few years and sadly a few of them stem from my first study abroad experience.
I did the Tippie London Winter Session in January of 2014 (and highly recommend it!) and to this day I regret not going up into the London Eye or taking the most cliché Harry Potter fan pic ever. Platform 9 ¾. I went to Kings Cross Station after hours and got a very cheesy and excited Harry Potter fan pic underneath the Platform 9 ¾ sign, but I never went during the opening hours when they had a cart and scarves set up like my friend Lisa did. To this day my inner Harry Potter nerd regrets with a burning passion not taking that photo.
Basically what I’m saying here is don’t be that Harry Potter nerd missing the Platform 9 ¾ picture. Don’t see other people’s photos from up in the London Eye and think, “Man, I’m an idiot for not doing that.” Live every second of this experience to the fullest so when someone asks you if there’s anything you wish you had done during your semester you can tell them with a smile on your face that you knocked it all off your list.
Lauren is a senior from Cedar Falls, IA majoring in marketing and finance with a minor in communication at the University of Iowa. She is currently studying abroad on the American College of Thessaloniki (ACT) Program in Thessaloniki, Greece.