November 11, 2015

Collegiate Perspective: Phis Overseas, The Dos and Don’ts

Throughout my collegiate career, I have had beautiful opportunities to travel during our one month January Term. My experiences abroad (and with my sisters!)  became some of the most memorable and meaningful in my life. I have learned so much about the world and my place in it, and I have grown in ways that I believe, while I love this place, would have been impossible to do on a college campus.

I distinctly remember the day we visited The Great Wall of China in 2014. Since we were traveling in a group, our professor had all of the tickets necessary for the excursion and held onto them throughout the day. After a couple of hours of excitement and exhaustion, we decided to take the Toboggan down, not realizing until the bottom that it took us off and away from The Wall. We had no tickets, no Chinese language experience and no way to contact anyone in our group. Since we were far enough outside of Beijing, it was difficult to find anyone that could understand or help us. Yes, we were officially lost in China.

I must say that day was one of the most profound experiences of my life, and also one of the most exciting. It put into perspective the true barriers between cultures and the challenges of interpersonal communication. We were as far outside of our comfort zones as it gets, for not being able to understand anyone or anything can be a little terrifying. We had to be innovative and communicate without language, using pictures and hand gestures to make our long journey back. If you asked me if I would have made that mistake again – I absolutely would.

Each day abroad is a challenge, a gift and a larger part of an amazing journey that is education, no matter how old you are. Here are some dos and don’ts for taking that journey: 

DO: GET LOST IN A BEAUTIFUL CITY – Follow your heart. Get on a different train. Visit somewhere outside of what you find in the travel books. Of course, go with a friend, but don’t be afraid of the unknown. Sometimes, it’s the most beautiful.

DON’T: GET SICK – Most often, you can’t avoid it, but medical care abroad can be difficult to navigate. The medications differ, and it can also be tremendously difficult to communicate with your doctor. I’ve ended up in a clinic in both Kenya and Vietnam… take my word on this one. Make taking care of your health a top priority.

DO: HAVE A “WHY NOT” ATTITUDE – If you do things safely and responsibly, all you have to lose while you are abroad is time. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, particularly the unexpected ones. The things you do spontaneously and on the fly make for the best stories.

DON’T: PACK TOO MUCH – There’s only so many sweaters you can bring! Narrow it down to your absolute favorites, and call it a day. Pick outfits you can mix and match. Save room for the essentials and anything you may be bringing home! Particularly if you are going to be traveling a lot while abroad, you don’t want to haul around the things you just don’t need.

DO: ENGAGE WITH THE LOCALS – Those will be some of the best experiences. Ask them questions about their lifestyle and culture. Take suggestions on places to eat and visit. Often times the “touristy” restaurants are too Americanized. Go for the authentic experience and learn from the people who know the country best!

DON’T: BE AFRIAD TO TRY NEW THINGS – Chances are your trip won’t exceed more  than a few months, so don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone and try something new! You can start with baby steps, like a new cuisine. Use this as an opportunity to grow as a person, while learning about new cultures. Experience and take in every moment. I have far too many regrets of things I wish I had tried while abroad!

DO: KEEP A JOURNAL – Every day will be packed with new adventures, acquaintances, and challenges and you’ll want to remember them. Even if it’s just a paragraph a day, keep track of these moments and the experiences that have impacted you most. It’s something you can share and will have forever.

Grace Quinn is a collegiate member at DePauw (Gamma). Learn more about Grace by clicking here.

A few additional traveling resources and options:





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