If you are anything like me, studying abroad feels like the chance to enter into a fantasy world like some of my favorite stories. Before starting a story, I often have no idea what the setting will be like. I find myself wondering what the people’s personalities are like, what color dominates the landscape, what places and foods really represent the place, and I know I cannot fully know that from the back of the cover, the movie trailer, or even the summary. Traveling abroad is a bit like that, in the sense that you cannot experientially know what the journey will be like until the moment you start. The prospect of travel is exciting, but the anxiety of the unknown days ahead may be daunting. How best can one prepare for somewhere they’ve never been? Will it resemble C.S. Lewis’ Narnia and operate at a whole other time and place from the moment you step off the plane, or will it be like Hogwarts and use magical ways of going about life that you must learn?
While you may not be able to bring a sword and shield through TSA Security, here are some tools and tricks to ease the pre-trip anxieties for a more vibrant step into the new countries we get to travel throughout.
Firstly, when the country speaks a different language than you, take a simple step to learn a few of their phrases. On my trip with Millennium Tours for Baylor University Theatre’s Summer 2022 Study Abroad trip, we are going to four different countries that speak four different languages. Luckily, one of those is England, but France, the Netherlands, and Denmark seemed a bit more daunting. While we may not have to decipher Elvin runes on a door to save a hobbit friend, we may wish to understand simple directions and places upon arriving. For our trip, I made a small reference sheet of phrases in French, Danish, and Dutch. In one column, I listed the English phrase. My list included a lot of greetings, basic directions, questions about food items, numbers, and expressions of gratitude. I would list the phrase for each language in a nearby column followed by a phonetic pronunciation of each phrase. I have it printed and folded up in my bag to pull out in a pinch!
Another great option for languages is a translation app like Google Translate or iTranslate. Nowadays, you can translate full menus into English and even voice-to-text a conversation to interpret for both yourself and your foreign-language friend. No need to fear! A few months before the trip, you can even download a language learning app like DuoLingo to learn as much as you can to listen, read, and speak while you’re there.
J’ai commencé à apprendre le français et je connais maintenant plus de 100 mots.
Another pre-trip tool to have handy is a currency conversion app. It works like a calculator to help you understand what the cost of an item or service would be in your home currency. If Hermione Granger had lived in the era of smartphones, she would have swiftly been able to calculate how many galleons she needed for her first cauldron (if she hadn’t already read it in a book before. She’s a prepared one, that Hermione). For me, I was able to download one called Currency Converter Calculator, and I now know both the British Pound and Euro are just under the value of the American dollar. So, if someone offers me a Harry Potter scarf for 400 pounds, I know they may not be giving me a fair deal.
While I wish it were so, I am not traveling to Europe with a magical Marauder’s Map that shows me secret passages to take nor a well-traveled magical guide like Gandalf who can open doors I failed to see. In order to prepare to navigate these new countries, I started by looking at maps of the major cities on the trip. In the Maps app on your phone, you can drop a pin at important locations, such as your hotel, major landmarks, or even the restaurant your grandmother recommended from her travels. You can also make a list of locations by scrolling down and pressing Guide, collecting all of your destinations in one place! Having a general sense of how to get around is a unique gift we have thanks to technology. Downloading an app like Moovit or your specific country’s metro application can help determine the how once you know the where.
Though we may not be magical, I hope you feel comforted by these first steps you can use to prepare for a trip! I can’t wait to see what’s in store.