You can be told where to go, what bar to hit, what drinks to down, what food to inhale, but then it’s just going to be the same as back in your home, people telling you what to eat and what to taste and why it’s good. You can be told what roads to take and what sights to se, but all of this is really contradictory to the reason you probably are going abroad in the first place—to experience a place free from all the assumptions and preconceptions that you’ve created for the place you call home.
It’s more important to view your home with that same childlike perception. Anyone can buy a ticket on a plane and fly someplace new. And if you had a life long enough to live in every single town, village, city, and hamlet on the face of the Earth, don’t you really think that thrill of seeing new places would disappear? It would, because there would be no place new.
Thus, the beauty in traveling is that it opens your mind to a sensibility that you can wield whenever, wherever. The physical act of traveling merely shows us that it’s possible. It’s like a drug. You can achieve on your own the mental states induced by drugs; taking them is just the sure-fire way of making them happen. You can experience the thrill of travelling anyday you want—you just have to actually want to. While Sir Francis Drake is fighting Indians in South America and sailing around the continent, De Maistre’s is exploring his own home in Expedition Around My Bedroom. Traveling need not begin on distant shores. It begins in your heart.
What is the caveat with traveling? What’s the allure? You’re alone, you’re single, you’re a free agent that is capable of responding to anything and everything and not have any binds or chains to hold back your opinions. "You can be yourself when you go abroad." You can't be yourself at home? You can't change yourself where you live? You know you can, but I bet there are things like family, friends, and expectations of you that are getting in your way.
The reason people travel? Generally, I think most crowds travel to escape themselves. I think true travelers are the ones who venture their hearts, not only their minds, and are not afraid to return changed. Returning to your home a changed man takes merely courage; changing yourself at home requires courage and strength, yet wil reward you both.
To speak of it literally, there are a definite amount of places that you can travel in any given lifetime, because the world is numbered. But there is an infinite number of changes, emotions, and discoveries that you can make anywhere. Before traveling abroad, find out the true reason why you're leaving, and ask yourself if the reason you're getting out and about is not a reason that can be addressed personally, at home--because I guarantee you, if you're hjoping the world will change you from the outside in, it won't happen to you in a millenium. Traveling abroad will be the same experience as seeing a 3-month long 3D movie.
(For some practical advice though, if anyone wants to go to NYU Florence, live off campus. It’ll be the better life experience. You’ll be seeing enough of La Pietra on schooldays)
In Florence, there are three choices for housing. You can live on-campus (although the majority of this space is reserved for freshman), you can live in an off campus apartment or you can live in a home stay. I don’t know enough to speak about living on campus but through my experience and talk with others, I am able to see a clear set of advantages and disadvantages between the other two.
Living in an apartment has been awesome. I share my apartment with five other guys who are my closest friends here. Also in our building, there are two other apartments of NYU students mixed amongst several Italians. Living off campus gives us a lot of freedom. We can stay out as late as we please at night or leave super early to catch 4am trains without worrying about disturbing anyone. Our doors here are generally open. We frequently drop by each other’s apartments to visit or say hi. Off campus living provides an awesome social setting and great place to meet the people you live with.
Another thing I really appreciate about Via Ghibellina 57 (you cannot choose which off campus residence you have) is its proximity to the center without being directly in the center. We manage to avoid the hoards of tourists and the negative externalities that come with them.
Living in a home stay comes with a whole other set of variables. You take up residence in the home or apartment of a Florentine family. This forces you to integrate culturally and change your lifestyle. It also helps immensely with your language skills. The best part of all this, (and you can consider it a cultural experience too) is that they will cook for you every night!
Mmmm… food in Italy. Just back from a gelato run, I have to say that my favorite in the city is Vestri. It is most famous as a chocolate shop but the chocolate and red pepper gelato is amazing! My favorite dinner spot would have to be Teatro del Sale (here in an earlier post). Over the course of a meal, you will try more than ten of the chef’s imaginative twists on Italian cuisine.
My biggest regret of my study abroad experience is that I did not show up in Italy with any knowledge of Italian. In retrospect, it would be ideal to come to Florence after taking my elementary level Italian courses at home. Then, in Italy I could take the intermediate language classes. A basic knowledge upon arrival would have helped me to converse more and meet more locals. Also I would have learned at a faster pace. Without any Italian, during my first few weeks here, everything sounded like one big, garbled sound.
-photo from Piazzale Michelangelo
If you’re a Journalism major or have any interest in the theatre, I highly recommend “Reporting The Arts”. The guest speakers vary from actors ( including, this semester, the very handsome and charming Jonathan Groff), to newspaper and magazine editors to bloggers to directors. The professor is a Yale educated theatre critic for The New York Times. So basically, he knows his shit.
“Writing London” is another really intellectually stimulating class (with pretty minimal coursework), so it’s ideal. I worship the ground my professor walks on. Every sentence that comes out of her mouth strikes me as the most intelligent observation I’ve ever heard.
Avoid The British Novel Of The Nineteenth century like the plague, unless you like learning nothing and reading a huge novel a week. Trust me on this one.
The pub thing gets old fast. Don’t stay in the Bloomsbury area. If you miss New York, East London ( Shoreditch & Brick Lane, specifically) is your best bet, even though it’s a pain in the ass to get home. The Ministry Of Sound is a long trek and grossly overrated.
A few of my favorite drinking/dancing/overall funtime spots:
Close/ Cheap Pub- Fitzroy’s Tavern.
Close/Cheap Bar/ Open Late (Even On Weekdays) – The Court
Close Club/ Good Music/ Cider Specials/ Nice Bartenders- The Big Chill
Mind-Bogglingly Hip/ Awesome Rooftop/ Live Music- The Queen of Hoxton ( also the location of the picture, curtesy of my freind Simone0
Hip/ Huge/ Open Late/ DJs/ Live Music- Proud
London’s incredibly expensive, and buying your food from the supermarket is by far the easiest way to save money. Plus, you’re not missing out on much. Delivery takes forever. Hare & Tortoise, an Asian restaurant at the Brunswick, is really incredible, with big portions and reasonable prices. They don’t take reservations, and unless you go at 4pm on a weekday, there will be a line. But it’s worth it.
Start your nights early. Everything closes early: The tube, the restaurants, the bars. Get used to British people making fun of your accent, but make friends with them anyway. Don’t let the weather dictate your mood, or you will always be miserable. London’s a big city: explore.
Anyway, if you have any choice in neighborhood, I’d say the area around Monmartre, or Belleville, or the haut- Marais/ Republique, or the anywhere in the 11th. I personally love Belleville, it reminds me a bit of Greenpoint, if I were to compare it with anything. Quite chilled out, but a very diverse and happening artistic community, with old Parisian buildings, and it’s a relatively cheap area. Around Momartre is quite cute, with chic boutiques and a hip population; Monmartre itself is very touristy, but it’s pretty easy to avoid the worst areas. There’s a dodgy red light district around Pigalle but its interspersed with a lot of cool cafes and restaurants. What I like most about that area is how hilly it all is, and how narrow the streets are. I think it would probably be sort of similar to the East Village, maybe. The haut- Marais is perhaps comparable to the meat- packing district or Chelsea, but is not as touristy as the southern part of the Marais, around Saint Paul; it seems like an up-and-coming neighborhood. The 11th is where I live, and it was quite hip maybe a decade ago, but now has been overwhelmed and is sort of just outmoded, it’s comme ci comme ca. There’s still a lot to do, but most bars and cafes are already tres connu, so they are crowded and over priced. It is near to everything, which is the good thing, and Oberkampf sort of reminds me of MacDougal, so I’d say my area would be similar to Greenwich Village. The 14th also seems like a cool place to live, but I don’t know nearly enough about it.
It is way harder to divide Paris up into specific neighborhoods and to label them as happening or not happening, because everything is just more broken up than in New York. For example, there’s nothing equivalent to Williamsburg/ Bushwick here because “hipsters” (I hate using this word because of it's varied implications, but you know what I mean) live all over Paris, and outside of Paris. It is so hard to find an apartment, so most settle for whatever they can get—it’s hard to just pick an area to live in in Paris unless you’re quite rich and French. There’s no Upper East Side equivalent, because all parts of Paris are inhabited by the “bourgeois” – although, I’d say that places like the 16th and 17th are definitely rich areas.
Anyway, I am probably wrong about some of these conclusions and comparisons because I’ve only been here for so long, and therefore have only been to some neighborhoods a few times. I would’ve liked to have known all these things before I came, though, just to orient myself with Parisian neighborhoods. I tried to figure out what each neighborhood of Paris was like before arriving here, via the internet, but it was hard to find such information. I think you have to be told such things by someone who has lived here or by finding out through experience.
Also, if you’re coming to Paris, expect to spend quite a lot of money—most of it on food. At first I tried to resist spending so much on food, by buying groceries and cooking, but then I realized that most of my social interactions as well as cultural experiences here happen in the context of food—at restaurants and cafes. It is well worth it to spend so much money on food; one: because American families spend a smaller percentage of their budget on food than families of any other country, and two: because the food is so much better here and you won’t be able to taste most of these things upon your return to America.
In terms of excellent restaurants, cafes, etc, that I would recommend—I’d say walk around Monmartre, you’ll find a lot of cute places. Also, eat Lebanese at Chez Marianne on Rue des Hospitaliers Saint Gervais in the Marais, or great classic French at Chez Janou near Place des Voges, go to brunch at Rose Bakery, (if you’re into veg food) go to the Loving Hut off Chemin Vert (I know, the name is quite amusing) or Aquarius in the 14th. Those are just restaurants I’ve been to more than once here, they’re the ones I can think of off the top of my head. It’s pretty hard to have a bad meal here, in my experience. As for cool cafes, the one I am sitting in right now is pretty comfortable; it is on the corner or Rue des Hospitaliers Saint Gervais across from Muji. Merce and the Muse on Rue Dupuis is a very New Yorkaise coffee shop, if you’re ever missing Think Coffee or 9th Street Espresso, or whatever your NY coffee spot is. It’s actually owned by a NYU grad. Café de l’Industrie is pretty cool, and right around the corner is the only 24/7 place I’ve encountered in all of Paris: la Rotonde. There’s a whole lot of awesome places in Paris, and I don’t want to recommend too many, because the best ones I’ve encountered have been by wandering around and entering whatever place I’ve felt like going to—and I recommend anyone who visits Paris do the same.
As for everything else—I most certainly recommend Parc des Buttes Chaumont, it is the most incredible park in the world. There are a bunch of awesome venues and bars and cafes near la Bellevilloise in Belleville. My roommate played at Studio Ermitage off the Jourdain stop and I quite liked that place. Don’t go to Nouveau Casino or Café Charbonne unless you want to pay too much to be squished into a small place for the whole night. Check out Pop- In, off the Saint Sebastian Froissart stop on a week night to catch a cool show. Go to the Bottle Shop on Rue Trousseau if you miss Lower East Side bars (also better on week nights). I’ve never been to Le Tigre, but hear it’s similar to meat packing district clubs—so if, for some reason, you’re jonsing for such a scene, you can find a Parisian version of it there. Go to Shakespeare and Co, and maybe even sign up for their once a week creative writing workshop. Go to outdoor markets to buy your food, such as the one on Rue d’Aligre. Walk across the Bir-Hakim bridge, go to the Cinematheque near Bercy to catch a film cycle, check out Pere Lachaise at least for an hour, walk along the Seine as often as possible, sit in the deserted square that it Place Dauphine. Check out the Tuileries and Musee D’Orsay and definitely, definitely check out the Pompidou, several times. Gallery hop in the Marais. If you miss Bobst (I think you will!), go to the free library in the Pompidou, ascend the elevator to the 3rd floor and go to the music section to listen to John Cage or Satie while reading a book. Read Nadja and Good Morning Midnight and Giovanni’s Room and Tropic of Cancer. Don’t worry too much about what to pack—I packed three hours before I had to leave and don’t miss anything. Just make sure you have an adaptor, of course, and bring your face wash if you’re loyal to some American brand. Walk around with a comprehensive map for the first month or so (but if you’re ever lost, its never hard to find your way: you just wander until you find a metro and take it to wherever you’d like to go). Be more productive during the day, and don’t expect to go out every night till 3 unless you want to spend hundred of euros on cab rides throughout the semester (and trust me, most cool places are closed by 2am, so its almost never worth it—the only time it’s been worth staying out late is when I am at a French apartment party or something). And, if you’re a girl, don’t stop when people ask you things on the street, 80% of the time, doing so just provokes an unfortunate situation. But do talk to strangers everyday—your neighbors in your apartment building, the neighboring table at a café, your local boulangerie saleswoman, your local bartender, people in metro cars, people in buses. It’s worth it—to improve your French and learn an insight into their way of life, and to feel as if you’re more than just a foreign American student temporarily living in Paris.
I pooled my Argentinean friends for some of their advice and here is a few things that I have heard:
-Do not take LAN airline. Additionally, if possible avoid taking any Argentine airline, as they will most likely go on strikes
-Never hang your bag on your chair like you're used to in the US. There are hooks on the tables. Do not use them! They are tricks.
-Explore outside of the Palermo and Recoleta areas.
-Drink Fernet and Cola. Try Salsa Golf. Try cow's stomach. Eat from a dirty parilla on the corner. Order empanadas for a 4 am snack.
-If dark, and you have any money on you, Spend the 2$ on a cab- otherwise you will get robbed
-Never go to ATMs when its dark, even on the big avenues.
-If wearing a backpack- well, actually don’t wear a backpack.
-Do not rent a car. If you do, check on all insurance policies beforehand.
-To sum it up, Argentines will steal anything. Caution is always suggested while fairing the rough streets of Argentina.
-International Electronic Music Festival Creamfields is a must!
The picture above is from a friend. She has a great blog called "The Porteña Life". Clink on the link to take you there and get more advice about the streets and life in Buenos Aires!
Visit the British Museum as often as you can. That place is huge and right next to the NYU dorms. I passed it all the time on the way to class and have been inside plenty of times, but I still feel as though I haven't seen it all. The Tate Modern and the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square are also big museums to see.
Join clubs and societies at the local colleges. NYU in London is connected to the University of London Union, which has a wide range of clubs, including football and Harry Potter club. It's a great way to meet some of the local students and see the real city.
Public transportation? Walk. More specifically, epic walks. When we found the time, my friends and I would go on these spontaneous walks around the city. We had no destination, no map, and no idea what we were in for. (Yes, we did this on purpose.) Lucky for us, our dorms are located in central London, which means Big Ben, the London Eye, Oxford St, and other big attractions are only about a 30-45 min. walk away. On one of our first nights in London, we turned a corner and saw St. Paul's Cathedral, a beautiful surprise and awesome place to go, especially at night. The next day, Alexander McQueen's funeral was held there.
If you do choose to take public transportation, then invest in an Oyster card, which you get money back for if you return it. It also offers cheaper fares for buses and the tube. And always sit on the first row of the second floor while taking the bus. Best view and so much fun!
Visit the parks! London is full of green. There are gardens
Most people think British food is awful. That's because it is. But try Borough Market. This place has all the best ingredients and freshest produce. There's a famous pork belly and apple sandwich (reminded me of Momofuku in New York) and an ostrich sandwich as well. Both are only around 4-6 pounds.
And most importantly, don't compare it to anything else because it'll be like nothing you've experienced before. Whether you're studying abroad or just visiting, your time in London deserves a category of its own.
(Photo: I took this photo from Trafalgar Square after the first day it snowed.)
Lose your New York sense of time. Lose your expectations. Lose your inhibitions. Ditch the sunscreen - get tan instead. Wear bug spray. Stock up on tampons before you leave. Know that getting sick is inevitable. Be comfortable talking about your bowel movements - for the first month or so, it will be a common topic of conversation. Learn how to pee in “piss boxes” without splash back … Or just pee in a gutter instead. Always put a smile on your face and be prepared for a lot of attention. Say hello to everyone you pass on your way to class. Accept that the word “Obruni” practically defines you. Mention President Obama and everyone will love you. Mention Kwame Nkrumah and they’ll love you even more. Learn your Ghanaian name and introduce yourself that way. Learn just enough Twi to get by. Travel to Togo, Benin, or Burkina Faso … with friends who speak French, preferably. Leave things to chance sometimes - you can’t expect everything to always go the way you planned. Take some risks. Drink water sachets. Drink gin sachets. Eat FanIce and FanYogo at least once - although I promise you’ll want them again. Learn to love coconuts and learn how to eat them. Bargain with taxi drivers before you get in. Try your best not to get annoyed when taxis stop for you and honk every two seconds. Don’t stay out late - it’s dangerous. Screw the rules and stay out late anyway. Go dancing, but skip reggae nights (I’ve heard it’s an Obruni trap). Always have a male friend around who can be your husband when you need it. Prepare a ridiculous back-story to avoid marriage proposals. Speak slowly - remember that you have an accent too. Ride in tro-tros as often as you can. Volunteer - it might be the most rewarding thing you will ever do. Don’t get too caught up with schoolwork. Steal water from the water cooler at the academic center. Ignore the sign that tells you not to. Drink a beer at Central Point at least once a day. Don’t go to the Accra Mall - the culture shock is unbearable. Befriend Marjorie, the seamstress, and make a lot of clothing. Watch Ghanaian movies. Eat pineapples continuously. Enjoy the mangoes too. Buy a phone and memorize your number. Don’t give your number out to too many Ghanaians. If you do, expect proverbial text messages on a daily basis. Buy MTN credit off the street. Buy snacks off the street. Buy things off the street even if you don’t know what they are. Experiment. Go bat-shit insane. Take the shortcuts to class, but don’t fall in the gutter. Buy egg sandwiches from Doreen, even though they’re overpriced. Play with the children. Play with the kittens. Get used to seeing goats and chickens as much as you see squirrels and pigeons in New York. Learn how to carry things on your head. Go on all of the NYU excursions. Sleep on long bus rides. Bring snacks. Bring a pillow. Bring a bathing suit. Form a new circle of friends - you might even call it a family. Immerse yourself in the culture as much as you can, but remember that occasionally it’s okay to stay inside the NYU bubble. Throw themed parties at Church Crescent and load up on alcohol. Get shit-faced. Kill a chicken. Climb a tree. Visit a village. Dress in local garb. Explore Kaneshi market and buy things you don’t really need. Cook as much as you can. Share food - it’s nice to be communal. Try grasscutter - it tastes like pork. Eat red-red, fufu, groundnut soup, and Waakye as often as you can. Don’t buy groceries from the grocery store. Stock up on Indomie and leftovers instead. Don’t get too mad when the internet cuts out. Don’t rely on Skype to ever work when you want it to. Get used to water shortages, power outages, and broken appliances. Pray that the AC won’t turn off in the middle of the night and leave you covered in sweat. Don’t take classes at Legon - everyone I know regrets it. Make friends with the Rasta’s on Ring Road. Accept the fact that most of the food here isn’t healthy, so don’t get upset if you gain a little weight. Make homemade smoothies. Eat lunch at Ashesi and drink Blue Skies. Go to Green Turtle Lodge or Kokrobite for a beach weekend getaway. Take a thousand pictures - you can never have too many. Keep a journal - there are way too many moments that you won’t want to forget. Accept the fact that the semester will go by quicker than you want it to. Make the best of the time you have here. Ghana is amazing, so plan to come back.
Wow. It's already mid-December. Almost. And I feel like there's still so much of Prague I haven't seen. So I suppose I'll start off with this advice. You are going abroad to immerse yourself in a culture, to hopefully learn something about yourself. Traveling is such a huge part of this, and while I recommend doing off-the-wall things for fall break, try to not go away every weekend. Even though it may be tempting.
You see, if you travel every weekend, you'll find that your bank account gets conspicuously smaller and smaller with each passing week. You'll have less money to spend on going out for beers at Pivovarsky Klub with friends, or yummy Sunday brunch at Radost FX.You'll miss out on a lot of the goings-on in Prague. I promise you, you won't ever be able to see all of it. So leave many weekends free to explore. But I'm sure you've heard all this before.
I guess another piece of advice would be that if you can help it, try to take the courses that really interest you. Stray away from the boring classes you want to take as a requirement for your degree in New York. I found that by taking four courses that had nothing at all to do with my concentration, I gained a lot more from my experience than from friends who were struggling through--let's face it--the more boring classes. Try something you'd never thought you'd ever take. A lot of people complained about the academics here, but I found everything to be challenging without being too time-consuming (except around midterm and finals time), and extremely enriching.
Also, get to know your RAs. They're all really REALLY cool, and have something to say about what it's like to live in the Czech Republic. And yeah, they have a bunch of really good recommendations too. But they are such wonderful people, and they can become wonderful friends if you make the effort to get to know them.
Lastly, enjoy yourself. If you can, forget all of the baggage you came to Prague with. Start fresh, and enjoy the meaningful new friendships you are surely to make. I've found the most wonderful people here, and I think that letting go of a lot of my stressors from back home helped me let go and have fun with them.
So, I’ve been meaning to get that off my chest. With that said this was not a bad experience but it could have been better had we not be treated like children in a prison. Just because something is an “experience” doesn’t mean you need to be deprived of basic necessities. Things will spice themselves up! London it self has some cool spots, Camden Town and the East End, pretty cool, worth seeing if you are here, I wouldn’t say they are worth coming here for. I think studying abroad ANYWHERE is a worth while experience. I never expected to be so homesick or to feel like a different person. But feeling that way has ultimately been more productive than not. My friend N. always said, “EMMY didn’t you come here to find yourself?!” I think for a while I lost myself, but you can’t find something that’s already there. I’ve never worked so hard, drank so much, puked so much, laughed so much or cried so much. I don’t regret a single thing.
I feel like I can't quite write this yet. Of course reflection and retrospection are always good things, but I feel like I need to digest this experience from a distance before I'll be ready to really give good advice. By the time I'm on my connecting flight home I should be ready. Already though? Now? I'm still visiting museums! Writing papers! Attending concerts! Photographing Flat Stanley with Prague Castle!
In short: I haven't left yet. I still have 10 days here and I'm trying to hold on to them. Trying with all my might and against all reason.
Advice for students coming to Prague over the fall semester:
1. Don't let NYU scare you. They will tell you that Czechs are reserved to the point of being unfriendly. They will tell you that you will get pick-pocketed. They will tell you that remaining vegan/vegetarian is nearly impossible. They may also say that the winter is no colder than it is in NYC and that you will have no problem staying in touch with the mothership in Manhattan if you make an effort.
The real story?
There is no denying that the public transportation here is very quiet and that you should avoid yelling across the streets. That said, Czechs ARE friendly if you're respectful. Many of the younger ones speak English, and you'll be grateful for this after an older Czech person attempts to converse with you and you disappoint him/her with your lack of Czech language skills. If you use some common sense, you are much less likely to get pick-pocketed. There are plenty of vegan/vegetarian restaurants and others besides. Be prepared for winter to be very cold at times (not as windy as NYC but certainly colder). And don't expect your home advisers to be overly helpful; if you need something, send the email as soon as you can and mark it high priority so that maybe you get an answer.
2. Do take advantage of all that they offer. So I know it's lame to do school trips. Especially after you make your own friends, you may be tempted to ignore the weekly events that the school offers. Don't do it! They've got some experience here and want to help direct (and subsidize) your explorations of the Czech Republic. Let them! Sign up for as many of the school trips as you can and go with an open mind. They're really very enjoyable (contact me if you have questions, I've been on most of them!). The school also hosts events at the Prague campus. Personally, I stayed away from most of the student council sponsored stuff, but the academic lectures and the RA outings enriched my experience beyond belief. Again, these people have lived here much longer than you, so be grateful and let them show you around. It helps that the RAs and staff here are (except for the grumpy librarian- watch out for her!) friendly, helpful, and just really great people. Take the time to get to know them and find out how they see their city/country. You won't regret it.
3. You've already heard this but DON'T TRAVEL TOO MUCH! If you're sure that you're never going to be in Europe again, then feel free to leave every weekend. Otherwise, try to take some time to explore Prague. It's a beautiful city with a lot to offer, and you'll be buying an unlimited public transit pass (for cheap!) so you have no excuse to be bored in your dorm. Of course some travel is nice, and Prague is a very central location, but be sure to spend some time in this city and this country. If you do travel, try not to always be running West. Hang out in Central and Eastern Europe, and you might be surprised by what you can discover.
What else? Bring good walking shoes. And a warm coat. And an umbrella. Try the Beckerovka and all varieties of Czech beer you can get a hold of. Drink Burcak. Attempt to learn enough Czech to be polite. Be patient. Know that you will be charged for bread, water and ketchup at restaurants. Even McDonalds. Don't eat McDonalds. Go to a Megaphone concert. Get lost at least twice. Don't forget to do your homework. Talk to your professors (ask them which bars to go to and where to plan the weekend trips you do take!). Take lots of pictures. Make lots of friends.
And every once in a while, be sure to
and just take everything in. It's cliche, but true: the semester will be over before you know it.
1. Do not come with any expectations. That is not to say that some will not be met or even exceed your expectations (like my experiences traveling out of state, the people I met etc) but a lot of things will not meet your expectations (i.e. the internet, transportation, and a lot of things that you normally wouldn’t think twice about in America) When you don’t have any expectations for how things will work in this country, you will be pleasantly surprised when they do!
2. Integrate yourself into the culture. This can be anything from getting some clothes made, trying the local cuisine, going to any cultural even (movie premiers are way different in Ghana than in the US) or even just talking to some locals when your out instead of just your peers. This was probably the hardest thing for me at first, but looking back I’m so grateful for having the opportunity to do things in Ghana that I know I could never do (or get away with) anywhere else in the world. Also make sure you learn a few basic terms in Twi- people will really respect you for it and you’ll probably get ‘dashed’ a few vegetables from the produce lady, or she’ll just like you more.
3. Take advantage of NYU’s resources while you’re here! Go on as many of the excursions as possible (esp. Cape Coast, Tamale and Wli Falls!!). They are technically already paid for and show you all the different aspects of Ghana that anyone would suggest you visit when coming to Ghana. And NYU organizes everything and carts you around everywhere to make it super easy! That being said, don’t over extend yourself. It’s totally fine to stay back from a group trip on a weekend when you need to catch up on work/ sleep/ alone time.
4. Figure out all your financial stuff before you get here! How much are willing to budget per month? Take out the maximum you are willing to spend per month and keep in your safe to avoid withdrawal fees (the more you take out at the ATM at once, the better the rate) Don’t plan on using a credit card anywhere-no one accepts them. Also, don’t forget to call your bank before leaving America! I go lucky, but I know a few people who had their cards eaten by the ATM because they forgot to notify their banks they were going to be out of the country.
5. Walk around and get to know the neighborhood right away! Labone seems confusing and doesn’t make any sense at first, especially coming from New York where everything is built on a grid, but soon you will figure it out and learn all the short cuts (**hint** when walking to the academic center from Church Cresent, turn right just before the Crystal Rose Hotel and then follow that path until to get to a gutter. Walk along the gutter and you will come out right in front of the academic center with a few minutes shaved off your commute!)
6. Talk with other NYU in Ghana students! They are feeling the same discomfort as you in the beginning. While it can be easy to isolate yourself, your peers are really your best resources for advice and support because they are also missing the same things and feel like they’re going to crap their pants 24/7 too! Also, everyone (for the most part) who goes to NYU in Ghana is the chillest, most down to earth people at NYU and you will all feel like family at the end of the semester. Plus you’ll have a bunch of new circles of friends to hang out with in New York
Hope that helps! And if you just arrived in Ghana and are reading this, know that I am extremely jealous and also get ready for the most amazing and insane semester of your life!
(image source: my own. Women at a shea butter cooperative in Northern Ghana that we visited on an excursion to Tamale)
Although Berlin may not be at the top of everyone's list to study abroad, it should be. I've loved this city since I came to visit for 3 days in 2007, and after this semester it will always hold a place in my heart. To anyone preparing for a semester in Berlin, you've made a great choice, but keep some of these things in mind:
- I would recommend learning some basic German phrases before you get to Germany. Although most of the people in Berlin speak at least a little English, the awkward pointing and confusion gets old after about a week, and I can only imagine how frustrating it would be to live in a city where I couldn't even ask for directions. The NYU program assumes that you don't speak any German at all, so that's not a problem, but as someone who took German in high school and can now rant about the Dewey Decimal System auf Deutsch, let me say that learning the language greatly enhances your experience abroad. I have definitely had a different experience with Berlin than some of my friends who still speak almost no German, and I wouldn't trade places with them for the world.
- Brush up on your German history. The recent history of Germany and especially Berlin, what with WWI, WWII, the division of the city and reunification after the Wall came down, is what makes this city so interesting. To walk past the former homes of Holocaust victims or cross the former Berlin Wall every day puts recent history into perspective and gives the city a real personality that will take the whole semester to try to figure out - trust me.
- Explore wherever and whenever you can. The monthly transportation card here gives you unlimited access to above-ground trains, underground trains, trams, busses, and even regional trains, so there is no excuse not to choose a line, get off at a random stop, and walk around. I made a point of wandering around this semester - I found at least 4 different ways to get home from school - but I will always regret that I didn't see more of this city when I had the chance. I think that applies to every study abroad location, but really, challenge yourself to see something new every week. (Personal favorites include Alexanderplatz, Oranienstraße, Friedrichstraße, and the Hackescher Markt. The Brandenburg Gate, which took the above picture of, is of course another must-see. And although I don't recommend too much international travel, Krakow and pretty much anywhere in Austria are worth any amount of money or homework you have to sacrifice to get there.)
Also, I wish someone would have told me how touristy the city center is. You can’t choose which dorm to live in when you apply, but I believe living somewhere a little further outside the center, like Via Ghibellina or Via Maffia, would be preferable. However, those dorms are further from campus and the students who live in them often complain about the many bus transfers they have to take on the often very irregular bus to get to school.
Which brings me to my next suggestion: don’t get a student bus pass. It costs 23 euros a month, and yes, the walk to campus is horrendous at first (40 minutes, half of it all uphill), but you will be the better for it. I’ve gotten to know the buildings and regulars on my route to school well, and just walking in Florence is so awesome. Not to mention it helps work off all that pasta. Definitely much needed. So yes, I recommend walking a lot. It is the best way to get to know any new place on a deeper level.
As far as my favorite places go, I have several parks and restaurants that I am very fond of. When it was still warm, every time I had any homework I would wander around until I found a new park to sit in and do my homework there. This definitely worked out great – I got to spend longer amounts of time in a new environment. Sometimes there would be tourists wandering through with their gelati taking pictures, and sometimes it would be a class full of Italian elementary school students and their parents celebrating some kid’s birthday with balloons, cake, and presents. The Fortessa de Basso park is one of my favorites, along with the Cascine.
As far as pizza goes – you HAVE to go to I Tarocchi. It’s a nice lengthy walk to the other side of the river, but its frequented by solely Florentines pretty much, one of which told us that they had the best pizza in town here, and I believe them. I have to go back before I leave. For quicker, cheaper, but still TOTALLY amazing pizza, you have to go to Pugi. It’s on San Marco, which is sooo convenient (the bus to campus leaves from there), but there’s also one on San Gallo I believe. And as far as gelato goes – everyone will tell you Grom, but Carapina is much better as far as I’m concerned.
OH one last thing about food – SHOP AT THE MERCATO CENTRALE! The freshest food you will ever see/taste, the most awesome and authentic environment, and Italian farmers selling their beautiful fresh breads, meats, veggies, and pastas. It is really a great place and so authentic. But it closes at 2, so get your lazy self out of bed.
Wow. I can get carried away about food. Especially Italian food. Anyway, most importantly, save save save your money. I worked two jobs all summer and barely spent anything and still ran out of money halfway through the semester. Living in Europe is not easy and certainly not cheap. You will get homesick (even those of you who are not the homesick type, like me), you will miss America, even though you swear you won’t, and some days the time difference will still manage to catch you off guard when you try to talk to your friends an family back West. But even taking the good with the bad, it was still an incredible experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world (wait a minute, the WORLD, you say…?).
(Photo above taken by me in the quaint Italian town of Bibbiena)
One of the best choices I made was signing up for two classes that had theater trips. Methods and Practice: Reporting the Arts is a great class that combines improving your writing skills with seeing some amazing shows. It has a knowledgeable professor and speakers who are really in the business (including Jonathan Groff for you Gleeks!) Modern Drama and Performance was the other class I had where we got to go to the theater every week. It’s really easy and you get to see shows, win win. If you can get Thursday off, it’ll be great for making weekend trips a little longer.
I’d pick Byron Court for a dorm. It’s a little further to campus but Guilford had a ton of problems and is a lot smaller. Unite is supposed to be like a hostel, except the single rooms. They all have very little storage space though, so pack LIGHT! Make sure you have an umbrella and a winter coat. Waterproof shoes are also a good idea.
I’d also really recommend just walking around here. It’s beautiful. The walk along the Thames River from The Eye (the giant Ferris wheel) to Tower Bridge is amazing. Speaking of The Eye, do the free events that NYU provides. They’re a great way to get to see a lot you’d have to pay for otherwise. Also, check out the pub scene, but remember, they close at 11 p.m. The Princess Louise is one of my favorites. It’s by the Holborn tube stop and has a beer on tap for only 1.99, which is about the cheapest you’ll find in London. Check out Millers (near King Cross Station) on karaoke night for a laugh. And The Rocket is a typical student bar, with nights when certain drinks are on special (on Euston). If you’re under 21, like me, mostly just enjoy that you’re able to order a drink here.
Minor thing: if you can get a Bank of America account that would be good because they have lots of branches in Europe where you don’t get charged to take your money out. In London it’s Barclays.
(photo by me)
- The program here offers a wide range of subjects, particularly in the sciences. It also offers many English and Drama classes for those looking to be culturally immersed in the rich theater culture that thrives here. Plus, many of these classes can be used to fulfill MAP requirements.
- The lack of language barrier makes it slightly easier to adjust to any culture differences you might encounter during your stay here. At first, I thought it would be cheating the system choosing a country whose native language was also English, but I found it much easier to settle in and feel at home.
- London is perfectly situated for travel. Paris is a train ride away, as is Brussels and a slew of other major cities in Europe. Plane transport is also very convenient from any of London’s airports, even though it can be a pain to actually get to the airports sometimes, but that’s true for any place.
- Getting around is ridiculously convenient with the extensive Tube and bus system that operates throughout London. There are, however, two major drawbacks that I’ve encounter. The amount you pay for each trip quickly accumulates depending on how far you plan on traveling. And the only for of transportation after about midnight is the night bus that doesn’t run that frequently or follow its usually route. Then you’re stuck either waiting, walking, or taking a cab.
Now some words of advice concerning living in London and the NYU program that I wish some one had told me before I arrived:
- Take advantage of the programming opportunities NYU offers. You get a 50pound virtual budget to start off with at the beginning of the year. There’s three phases of programming with a wide variety of events each at a designated price. Events this semester have included trips on the London Eyes, tours of the Houses of Parliament, ice skating at Somerset House, Thirsty Thursdays at Whole Foods, a Jack the Ripper walking tour, and performances by the London Philharmonic. There plenty of things you probably wouldn’t pay to do yourself, so it’s a good way of getting a well rounded taste of London on some one else’s dollar (or should I say pound?).
- Save lots of money as soon as you learn you’re coming. Or start saving even before that. The pound is doing slightly better compared to the dollar than it was a couple of years ago, but it’s still nothing to write home about. Unless you’re writing home to ask for more money. London is an expensive city. I know when I first got here, I thought it wasn’t too bad but that was because I was forgetting to multiply the price I was looking at by 1.5 to figure out its dollar equivalent. I have since gotten smart about managing my money, but that doesn’t mean the city is any cheaper. There are always going to be essentials you’ll need, such as food and toilet paper, but you’re also going to want to set aside some extra money for traveling and having fun.
- Make the most of your time here. After dropping my extra class upon arrival, I have class twice a week, leaving me with plenty of time to explore the city. Even though classes are three hours each, they only meet once a week and you get lovely breaks during them that you normally wouldn’t expect at this level of education. You’re in class much less than you are back in New York City, which leaves you plenty of free time to delve into all the culture and fun London has to offer. Don’t let such an amazing opportunity slip away as you choose to sleep in or travel every free moment. At first, it’s hard to strike a balance between traveling to other countries and finding time to explore your new home, but that all comes with experience and personal preference.