Surviving Study Abroad: Tips from an American Bro in Beijing

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BCLU in Beijing


(My University in Beijing)

This afternoon I took a wrong turn and got lost in Beijing. Though I got back (on my own), it was an unnerving situation. But, it got me thinking. This week instead of giving you fashion advice, I wanted to give you some life advice that I have picked up over the course of my first few weeks abroad.

My basic thought is that, while clothes are an important part of life, knowing how to stay alive (and have a rad time) in a new city is pivotal. Take my advice or leave it, but the following are the principals that I will try to follow while I am abroad. We'll see how it goes and hopefully I'll have some cool stories regardless.

Memoirs of Stranger: Living the Foreign Life

View from the Beijing subway station


(A Beijing Train Station)

On my fourth day abroad, I was attempting to enter the Beijing subway, which is always packed, when I suddenly found myself separated from my group. For a moment I panicked. I wasn't sure what stop I was supposed to get off on, I didn't know how to ask where to go in Chinese, and I was alone without a cell phone. But, before I let panic take over, I took a breathe, collected myself, and got on the next train. I looked out the window as I passed every stop and eventually I found my group. Granted, it was a primitive solution, but it got me back safe and sound.

My point in telling this story is twofold. First, it is a glimpse into the misadventures that I fondly refer to as my life, and secondly, all stories give us a template from which we can extract some advice. From this particular experience, I can give you two tips: don't be afraid to make mistakes and don't panic when you do make a mistake.

Study abroad is a chance to shed the insecurities you may have back at your home institution and live a little. Let's be honest; being scared never gets you anywhere. So, don't be scared! Make a mistake or two! Every moment of life is a chance to learn something; don't let those moments pass you by. And when you happen to slip up, take a breath, think a little, and get going. There is no need to get hung up or to be afraid. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone learns from their mistakes. That's just the way the world works.

But, don't go crazy. Some mistakes hurt...

Carpe Diem

People eating sheep in Beijing

This tip is pretty self explanatory. You are in a foreign country. You are going to have a lot of opportunities to try new things. So, seize every opportunity. Get outside of your comfort zone and make bold plays. For example, in the photo above I am consuming a part of a sheep not commonly consumed in the United States...I'll let you figure this one out by yourself...

Wangfujin, a street in Beijing, China


(Wangfujing, a Pretty Famous Street in Beijing)

Along the lines of seizing opportunity, another tip I have picked up over the past few weeks is to pay attention to what locals do. Sure, it's fun to eat at a hole-in-the-wall DVD store/restaurant (yes, I actually did this), but if you don't see any locals eating there, it probably isn't all that great.

In Beijing, crossing the street is equivalent to playing a game of frogger. I am convinced that the traffic lights are just for show. Therefore, when I have to cross the street, I find a local and follow their lead. It is much safer than bearing the tide of oncoming cars by yourself, and you get a much better feel for the flow of pedestrian movement.

Keeping Perspective

A building in Tiananmen Square


(Right: A Building Along the Wall of Tiananmen Square, Left: View From Tiananmen)

The view from Tienman Square

My final tip is not to stay too connected to home while you are abroad. Honestly, I was debating whether or not to include this last tip. While I feel as though there is merit in the point, "disconnecting" is something that is hard to accomplish and not a concrete necessity.

I personally believe that you need to create a healthy balance while you are abroad. Take advantage of as much as you can at your abroad location. See the sights. Eat the food. Talk to locals. Make new friends on your abroad program. Don't stay in your room on Skype with your significant other all day. But, keep in mind that you are going home eventually. Remember the people that are important in your life. Mom, dad, sister, brother, girlfriend, boyfriend, best friend...they are going to want to hear about your experiences abroad. Don't leave them behind just because you are gone.

Unless of course Facebook, Twitter, and your personal Blog are blocked wherever you are studying abroad...

What do you think?

Do you have any good tips from your abroad experience? What are you most looking forward to if you are abroad? Post comments and let me know how I am doing!