Cultural Experience | United Kingdom

CT Dialogue: A Post Grad’s Advice for Traveling Abroad

Sisterly Advice: Do one thing every day that scares you (but stay safe!).

My entire life I’ve had my older sister not just as my best friend and confidant, but as my personal taste-tester. Someone to tell me, “That CD isn’t worth it,” or, “He says this, but he means that,” and most importantly, someone to explain the ins and outs of the world of modern journalism, a profession we’re both pursuing.  Becca is a valuable source of advice and information for me.

Now, as I prepare to embark on a semester abroad in London, I looked to my sister for her advice.  In 2011 Becca spent the final semester of her senior year also in London studying abroad. While I’ve heard of the highlights of her trip many times, I wanted to take the time to ask Becca questions that I know will be helpful as my semester abroad approaches.    

1.How do you feel your study abroad experience affected your relationships with your family and friends once you arrived home?

  In regards to family, I really only feel that it brought us closer. I loved being able to tell you all about my experiences, and being away from you for that long helped me to feel more independent, but also to recognize how important spending time with my family is.   With my friends, it was a bit more difficult. Because it was my last semester of college, I wasn’t able to reconnect with all of my college friends the way I would have liked to. But this is an atypical experience; everyone else who I know that studied abroad came back for at least one more semester, so they had that chance to get close to their college friends again.  

2.What was harder – assimilating to a new culture or readjusting to American culture? Difficulties of both?

  I’d say the latter, actually. We were warned about culture shock before we left for London, but I didn’t really experience it. I think I was just so excited by every new experience that I wasn’t taken aback by much. There were a couple of funny moments getting used to differences in language, but certainly not the way someone studying in a non-English speaking country would experience.   But when I got back to the US, I felt it a bit. I’m not sure how much of it was a country to country change or coming back to a small town from a big city, but I definitely missed London immediately after arriving home, and it was hard to get used to a very different living situation.  

Read more: 50 Things College Students Should Know About London

3. What are three experiences you would label “must – dos” while abroad in Europe?

  Oh wow, this is a tough one. All right, these are all a little general, but choosing just three is hard.   #1: I went to Spain for a few days, and while staying in Barcelona, I traveled to a nearby town and ate a traditional Spanish meal, with multiple courses including various local delicacies. It was seriously amazing. It can be hard if you’re in a program where you’re with mostly American students, but I think it’s so important to do things that help you really experience the culture and get out of the tourist mindset.   #2: Biking and just exploring in Amsterdam. We went on a weekend trip as part of a bus tour that also stopped in Bruges, and it was incredible. Any weekend and day trips you can take, do it. Especially those within the country you’re living in.   #3: Carnival! It’s all over Europe (and spelled a variety of ways) but I was in Athens during theirs. This is another great way to really experience the culture.

 4. One positive and one negative thing you discovered about yourself while abroad (or however many positive you wish, I’d prefer to keep it upbeat but I know there are always negative parts of every experience)

  There were definitely negative parts to my study abroad experience, but I wouldn’t say I really learned anything negative about myself. Maybe just that I often find myself relying on others, which I don’t particularly like, but I think I’ve always known that.   But positively, I learned that I can be an adventurer. I had never lived outside of Pennsylvania before I studied abroad, and it was scary to live somewhere completely different, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made. It opened up my eyes to just some of what is out there, and made me want to travel more and try more new things.  

Read more: Your Study Abroad Orientation: 10 Pieces of Clothing You’ll Need to Look & Feel Your Best

5. What advice do you have for me as your sister?

  My answer is twofold. First, be safe. I know all adults will say it, but it can be easy to be trusting and a little reckless, especially when you’ve never lived in a big city. Make sure your phone is charged, stick with friends, and know emergency numbers. Always know what method of transportation you’ll be taking, and when the tube stops running. Keep your purse closed and with you at all times. Have fun, but be safe doing it!   And the biggest thing? Do things that you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Try new foods, go to museums and the theatre. Look for new opportunities everywhere. Spend a day or two just exploring new parts of the city. See everything that you can. You’ll never have this opportunity again, and I just want you to take advantage of it. Follow one of my favorite pieces of advice: Do one thing every day that scares you.  

Becca Bleznak lives in Los Angeles, California and is currently a Content Writer and Social Media Manager at SEO Savvy. Check out her personal blog at

Emma Bleznak

James Madison Univerity | 8 stories

Emma Bleznak is a Public Relations and Journalism major at James Madison University. Follower her daily on twitter and instagram: @emmablez

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