I feel like whenever someone talks about their study abroad experience, they never have a single negative thing to say. Have you noticed that?
Well, I’m not going to be one of those people.
Having just returned from living in Florence, Italy for three and a half months, I can honestly tell you, studying abroad isn’t all rainbows and sunshine. Don’t get me wrong, it was an absolutely amazing experience and I met some of the best people to have ever graced my life. But my time abroad was far from perfect.
I certainly ran into my fair share of hiccups during my trip and they taught me so much about myself. For example, I learned when I’m under pressure, I freak out for a good 20 minutes, but after I calm down, I’m great at finding the next best option. Possibly the most important lesson, however, gave me a more insight into my desired career path.
But we’re not here to talk about everything I experienced and learned, even though there are an abundance of stories there, too. Today, I’m telling you all the study abroad problems I experienced and what you can do to avoid them…or at least how to deal with them.
Situation #1: All the sights you want to see are overcrowded with tourists
As you continue to read, you will see that this is the least of your concerns, but it is certainly an annoyance you will probably have to deal with depending on when you are traveling.
My best suggestion: go during the off-season. There won’t be nearly as many people traveling when it’s colder so try to pick a time when it’s not peak season. If that’s not possible, visit the tourist attractions when the weather isn’t optimal. Pack an umbrella and get on out there!
Don’t like the rain? Same. In that case, look up what time the attraction opens or closes and go as close to those times as possible. There are typically less people the further from midday you go.
Still not feeling it? Well, I don’t know what to tell you except that maybe the tourist attractions aren’t for you. I can relate. When I travel to a new place, I pretty much avoid those and instead make an effort to live like a local. I get a great experience out of it and typically I’ll happen to pass the tourist attractions or see them from an even better angle that way.
Situation #2: You forget your passport when taking a weekend trip
I know this one sounds so stupid but honestly I can’t be the only one who did this. I was taking a train from Florence to Venice then flying to Paris from Venice so I didn’t even think to bring my passport. *insert eye roll here* I didn’t realize it until I was halfway to Venice on a 50 euro train ride…. and I certainly did not wish to spend another 100 euros trying to go get my passport from Florence and come back.
So here’s what you do: call the airline that you’re flying with and say something along these lines: “I’m flying from Italy to France and since they are both Schengen countries, I don’t need my passport, correct?”
Of course, before asking this, you should probably look up the list of Schengen countries and make sure both are on it. Essentially Schengen countries are 26 nations within Europe which allow the free-flowing movement of people and goods, so you aren’t required to have a passport to fly among them.
It’s essential to call beforehand, though, so that you have that information in your back pocket and can blame it on that telephone operator if anyone at the airport asks. Crisis averted!
Situation #3: The taxi services are all on strike and that’s the only way to get to the airport
I know this seems really specific but it happened the morning I was flying back to America. I had woken up at 3:30 AM for a flight leaving at 6:30; that gave me ample time to call a taxi and get to the airport with about 2 hours to spare. Well, I discovered that both taxi services in Italy were on strike that day and there was no other way for me to get to the airport. After freaking out for about 30 minutes, sobbing in the empty streets of Florence, I sprinted to the train station (about a 30 minute walk away).
If you find yourself in a similar situation, allow yourself to freak out for a good few minutes, but then jump into action. Find out if there’s an alternate ride service (there was no Uber in Florence but maybe you’ll be blessed with that) or maybe the city bus goes to the airport (not ideal if you have giant suitcases but you’ll make do). Be flexible and willing to change plans in an instant.
Situation #4: You miss your flight and options are limited
Never have I ever had as many problems with my flights as I did the last month I was abroad.
First, I missed my flight in Paris, booked another one, slept in the wrong airport, then took a 2 hour bus to the right one, only to have them nearly not let me on the plane because I didn’t have my passport. Then, on my way back to America, my flight was delayed 2 hours, causing me to miss my connecting flight. I had to stay overnight only to wake up at 4 am and deal with problems then. Needless to say, I would prefer to avoid airplanes for the rest of my life.
On the plus side, here I am to solve all of your airport woes: First of all, make sure when you are booking your flight that you know how far from the city center (or where you’re staying) the airport is and the easiest way to get there. If it’s super hard to get to, maybe consider flying out of another airport. If that’s not an option, just make sure to allow ample time and money to get there.
If you miss your flight, just head over to the information desk. If it’s a connecting flight you missed because the previous one was delayed, they will be able to find you another flight and, depending on the reason for the delay, they’ll pay for a hotel for the night.
If you missed your flight for other reasons (i.e. it was completely your fault), you still have some options. Hopefully you purchased travel insurance but if not, keep calm and still talk to the information desk workers. They’re typically very nice and responsive if you treat them respectfully as they deserve.
Keep in mind: it’s (typically) not their fault you missed your flight so yelling at them means your anger is completely misplaced and it’s just unproductive. Ask them if there are other direct flights to your destination or what other options you have (connecting flights, layovers, etc.).
Situation #5: You contract the worst sickness of your life, but you don’t speak the local language and no one at the hospital speaks English
Let me set a little background for you: One day, I was just minding my business doing a little grocery shopping when all of a sudden I fainted. For the next week, I felt faint every time I even stood up, I couldn’t eat, all I did was sleep and I had the worst sore throat of life. I went to the hospital and they found that I had mono which had caused severe tonsillitis and a liver infection.
And what’s even better: no one in the hospital spoke a word of English. I mean I get it, I’m coming into your country, I can’t expect you to just speak my language but in such a touristy city at a hospital, I expected at least someone to speak some English.
So what do you do? Chances are if you’re studying abroad, you are part of a program and have an on-site leader. Contact that person when you get sick and ask if they think it’s worth going to the hospital. If so, ask her/him to accompany you and act as a translator. If not, ask a classmate or teacher who speaks both languages to play that role. No, it’s not a great situation to be in but on the bright side: spending time in the hospital I went to, even getting a ride in an ambulance, was FREE! Yes, you read that right. After spending four days and nights in there, I just walked out and no, no one chased me down with a hefty hospital bill! (Not all hospitals and services in Italy are free — here are more details on the Italian health care system.)
What was your study abroad experience like?
So yeah, study abroad is an invaluable opportunity and even though I ran into all these problems and even more, I wouldn’t trade it for the world (but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t have changed a few things).
I’d love to hear about mishaps you’ve experienced abroad! Have you run into these situations? What did you do? Did you run into worse scenarios (I know there’s a lot more out there)? I want to hear those too! Comment down below.
7 thoughts on “Don’t Let This Happen to You: 5 Problems I Experienced During Study Abroad”
I feel like the title is a little misleading. While it’s more likely to get sick or forget your passport at some point if you’re studying abroad most of these seem to be general travel problems. Staying in one city for a longer period of time can actually help with avoiding the tourist crowds because you’re more flexible timewise. And I’m not sure I understood the problem with the Florence airport correctly. You said the only way you could get there was by taxi but in the end there was a train going there? I’ve never used that particular airport but in my experience there’s always some kind of public transport or specialized bus company going to any airport, even the ones in the middle of nowhere used by budget airlines. They might not be as comfortable as a taxi but they’re definitely cheaper 😉
I’m quite shocked no one spoke English at the hospital. It must have been so scary to be stuck in a hospital in a foreign country and not sure what exactly was going on. I remember how nervous I was when visiting a doctor abroad for the first time and I didn’t even have anything that serious. I hope you had some people to take care of you, nothing worse than having to worry about groceries and all that jazz while being sick 🙁
Could you maybe do another article on the more school related problems you encountered while studying abroad? Did you have any classes in Italian or was everything in English? Were the any problems with getting classes accredited?
“No, it’s not a great situation to be in but on the bright side: spending time in the hospital, even getting a ride in an ambulance is FREE in Europe” THIS IS NOT TRUE. Please check your facts before writing something so factually inaccurate. You may not have had to pay for the ambulance or hospital likely because you were required to have international insurance as part of your study abroad and you paid a fee as part of the total study abroad payment and it was in the paperwork you didnt read.But a tourist who does not purchase travel health insurance would absolutely be sent a bill for the healthcare they receive in every European country except maybe the UK (though this have changed). The reason EU citizens would not receive a bill is because their country receives the bill and pays it on their behalf but it is not free healthcare in any sense.
Thanks for pointing that out! I see now that the sentence was misleading. Our writer received free care at an Italian hospital which can offer services free of charge (https://it.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-services/local-resources-of-u-s-citizens/medical/), however we were incorrect to say that health care in Europe is free. Europe is a big place and we can’t presume to know the health care rules for an entire continent!
Omg these are some horrible situations! Luckily my experience was less stressful, I only had issues with housing in the beginning x http://www.justsavxnnah.com
I am from the Netherlands myself, and I have never heard of being able to fly freely between European countries without a passport. Driving usually tends to be a little different, but anything else, like trains, buses, ferries and airplanes will have some kind of passport control, especially now, with the current threat of terrorism.
I am also surprised about the hospital thing. For most European countries, being able to speak English at a relatively okay level is mandatory for all university degrees (English is the official academical language, at least here in NL), so I would assume that doctors would be able to assist you in English… Strange!
Please, just please, take your passport and don’t rely on the Schengen thingy, as Lily points out. I think in this case you have been very, very lucky, as I always have to show my passport when traveling between Schengen countries by plane. Some airlines even want you to provide a passport number with your ticket and then check that number against the actual number at your passport at the airport (and reject you/make you pay a fine if they don’t match). Terrorism is also a thing here.
Non-English speaking staff in hospitals does not surprise me in Southern Europe. Anything Northwestern (Germany, Scandinavia, The Netherlands) is perfectly fine, but in general I find myself having a hard time communicating in the Mediterranean countries in English as it’s not that common there, I suppose.
This article came up in my search for “study abroad” articles as I’m about to head out to Brazil for six months.
While none of these situations sound pleasant and I am not blaming you for them, this whole thing is written from a very American perspective. I realise that the author probably is American, but it is very arrogant and quite irresponsible to head off on a study abroad experience with no knowledge of the local language. The piece of advice you should have offered for #5 (and that is applicable to many other conundrums) is to learn at least some of the local language, enough to get by and deal with emergencies, and to bring a phrasebook that covers the main sentences you could use in these types of situations. I know that you acknowledged that people shouldn’t be expected to speak your language, but if you’re going to live in a country for any period of time, it’s your job to learn the local language. It also moves you beyond being “just another American tourist” and makes the experience a lot more authentic and enriching!