Flying to Valencia in Style: 3 Tips to Start Your Study Abroad Program Off Right (Book Excerpt)

Most of us return stateside after study abroad forever changed; some students volunteer at their campus study abroad office, some apply to the ISA Global Ambassador program. For ISA Site Specialist Matt Steiner, though, that was not enough. After his experience with ISA Valencia, he was compelled to write, and last year he published his first book. Study Abroad: Sigo Buscando el Duende is loaded with valuable information and tips for both current and future study abroad students wanting to make the most of their experience.

We will periodically be publishing excerpts from Steiner’s book on ISA Today. This excerpt is taken from Chapter One: “The Flight.”

Tip #1: Turn that anxiety into excitement – Although I truly was excited beyond belief to go abroad, it was moments like these when I had to rearrange my thought patterns. I’m not nervous, I told myself, I’m just busting a gut to get out of the country! My friend Smee and I had been plotting this for two years now. I could still remember the night in the dorm room when we first looked at study abroad programs in Spain with ISA. It seemed like yesterday, yet here I was at 4:33 in the morning, unable to sleep from our decision.

It is only normal to have anxiety before exiting to a foreign country for several months. You leave behind your family and friends. You leave behind your favorite fast food restaurants and local hangouts. You leave behind chicken finger Tuesdays at the campus diner. You leave behind the dorms and frat brothers. You leave behind American sports like the NBA, NFL, and MLB. You leave behind American shopping malls and your sorority sisters. You leave behind what you have come to know so well in your short time here on Earth. Don’t worry a minute though – it’s all worth it. To make a long story short, I wouldn’t trade my time in Spain for a million dollars! Most of the people in my group, including me, didn’t even want to come back home!

Tip #6: Traveling is a golden opportunity to turn strangers into friends – I chose a program that gave me the opportunity to study in a foreign university, yet still have the comfort of taking classes with other American students. I came into the program not knowing anyone but my buddy Smee, and left with dozens of new friends that I still talk to today. Whether your common bond seems to be American heritage, the same train ticket, or cool socks, make a stranger out of a friend. People are usually friendlier when traveling and more open to striking up conversations out of the blue.

Tip #9: Put a unique sticker on the front and back of your luggage – I knew the instant my bags came out of the hole. The bright orange Bonnaroo 2007 sticker was unmistakable. Ever since I lost my bags for an hour in the Cancun, Mexico airport during spring break, I’ve been putting easily identifiable stickers on both sides of my luggage, so I can spot them amongst the masses of similarly colored and shaped suitcases. You could also tie a ribbon around the handle. Just do something to make your luggage stand out from the rest.