7 Tips For Study Abroad 7 Years Later

Today we have a guest blog post from a DU study abroad alumn.  Patrick Dichter studied at Aix-Marseille Université in southern France through ISEP. He graduated in 2009, majoring in International Business with minors in French and Finance. Patrick went on to complete his MBA at DU in 2010 and has worked for an online marketing startup before launching his own business, The Passport Protector LLC. 

I feel old. Seven years have already flown by since I studied abroad during my junior year at University of Denver. In my mind, it feels like yesterday that I got lost arrived on campus in Aix-en-Provence, France.

Now my journey has come full circle – the chance to share some ‘wisdom’ and a business I’ve launched because of that important semester. So here we go….7 Tips for Study Abroad 7 Years Later:

1. Soak up Every Single Second

The summer before I left my aunt sent me an email saying, ‘what I wouldn’t give to sit in a French café and do nothing but read for hours on end.’ Weird, I thought. But now I understand how time just seems to stop in those cafes yet real life is too busy for a 30-minute lunch.

2. Step outside your comfort zone. Then take two more steps.

The best times I had were the adventures that made me a bit nervous. And I can’t remember a single Skype session with friends from home, nor do I wish I’d spent more time using wifi. Get off your computer and into the world.

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3. Buy a local flag.

I can’t take credit for this idea, but it’s priceless. Buy a flag from your city or local soccer club to have all your friends from your program sign. Last night of the semester, everyone can jot down a note or memory.

4. Follow your heart.

Americans tend to be very logical or follow the rules. Your semester abroad is a great time to live it up and roam free. Buy that plane ticket to Morocco. Stay out late. Squeeze in one more excursion. Besides, spring semester you’re one year away from graduation.

5. Lean into the language.

If English isn’t the primary language in your city, don’t fight it and lean into it. It’s hard when you can’t read everything or keep up and express yourself. But the sooner you embrace the challenge, the easier it’ll become. Make a note to write down words you don’t know; try the native language first with locals, not English; focus on progress, not perfection.

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6. Appreciate student living abroad.

So your dorm room might be small and your budget is never big enough? There’s a huge difference between living in a city for months and all the graces that come with being a student, versus every other time you’ll travel. The next time, you’ll be rushed to cram everything into 2 weeks. Or you’ll have work emails to answer. Or you won’t know the city like a local. Or you’ll be too old for late nights and too accustomed to the finer things like nice hotels.

7. Take care of your passport with The Passport Protector!

I tried to return to Europe last summer for a two week trip. But as I was boarding the plane, I got stopped by a gate agent because of ‘wear and tear’ on my passport. It was up to date and in decent shape. Unfortunately the airline said they could get fined and I didn’t have any control in the matter. So we lost 4 days and $2500 for me to replace my passport. Thus I came up with a new product – The Passport Protector. It’s a hardcore case with innovative minimal design. Waterproof, impact resistant, and won’t get lost. Plus for every one sold we donate a portion to study abroad scholarships. Check out our crowdfunding campaign to buy one and spread the word: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-passport-protector/x/7035073

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Passports, Puerility and (Lack of) Preparation: How to (un)successfully prepare to study abroad

Image of a U.S. visa.
Courtesy of Google Images.

“Congratulations! I am happy to inform you that you have been officially accepted into ISA’s Individualized Studies With Spaniards Year 3 2012/2013 program at the University of Salamanca in Salamanca, Spain.”

Those are the now (in)famous first words that I heard alerting me that I would be spending 10 months abroad. With them came a frenzied wave of excitement, a pinch of trepidation, and dozens of high-fives, hugs and “That’s going to be so awesome! That’ll be an amazing experience!” facebook posts.

Like most of my friends, I was ecstatic with the thrilling opportunity set before me. However, that initial giddiness subsided after a day or two, and after a brief scan of the rest of my acceptance letter, which included quite a few “as soon as possibles,” I continued on with my life and nonchalantly thought nothing of the pressing deadlines before me…like only a 20-year-old could.

So, as thoughts of actually preparing to go to a foreign country cozily rested in the distant corners of my brain, days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months. After a disturbing amount of time had passed, I finally broke my fast of abroad information and realized that I should probably send one of these ISA folks an e-mail – just to make sure everything is gravy.  Well it turned out gravy things were not, and screwed I sure was. In the middle of May, as finals started turning from specks on the horizon into precipices in front of me, I got hit with a firestorm of abroad paperwork – and it hit hard, very hard.

To break it down for you, I got absolutely slammed by all of the following (in order of realization):

  • My passport was due to expire in a month, so I needed to get it renewed. (Takes 6-8 weeks to process)
  • Realized I was going to have to go to the Consulate General of Spain in New York City to get my visa…which had no openings until July, and there is absolutely no way to expedite. (Takes 6-8 weeks to process)
  • Realized, “Oh wait, a safety net! ISA does this all for you for a fee!” Then realized I had to get a hefty packet of materials to Austin, Texas in two-and-a-half weeks, with miles of red tape and government bureaucracy to trudge through to get there. Yikes.
  • Realized I had to get a criminal background check for any state I’ve lived in over the past 10 years – Colorado and Connecticut.
  • Realized said background checks had to be stamped and signed by the Secretary of State for each state. (Takes 2-3 weeks to process)
  • Realized I had to get a physical scheduled with a doctor in Colorado…where I knew no doctors. (Earliest appointment was 10 days out)

I thought it was over. The fat lady had sung. The pigs had flown around the world and back. I was not going to Spain. This sucks. But, the tale does not end there…I am writing this blog after all. Sparing many details, I somehow, someway scraped and clawed my way to that ISA deadline and got my materials to Austin, Texas on time. It involved daily phone calls with my parents, dozens of light rail trips downtown, repetitive head banging on the steering wheels of friends cars, hundreds of dollars of expedite fees, and hours upon hours of restless anxiety. Needless to say, it was not exactly a mosey through a meadow on a spring morning, and I would not recommend it or wish it on anybody.

However, that two week experience, taught me my first two, and perhaps most important, lessons of my study abroad experience:

1.) Be prepared and organized, only bad things happen when you aren’t.

2.) Relax, breathe and know that things will eventually, somehow, by some miracle, work themselves out…usually.

Quincy Snowdon, DUSA Blogger