Cultural Experience | United Kingdom

Making the Best of Unexpected Situations Abroad.

Keep Calm and Carry On.

Before I left to study abroad at the University of Leeds in England, I hit a bit of a snag. The housing I was placed in was the exact opposite of what I had wanted, and the flat I was assigned was several miles away from the university campus and the city. For one thing to go wrong, especially when it consisted of the place I would be living for five months, seemed catastrophic. Studying abroad is exciting, but it can also be scary, and this did nothing to help my nerves. I wasn’t used to living in a foreign country. What if I got lost, living so far away? How would I get to campus? It may seem like a trivial problem, but when traversing a foreign country on your own for the first time, even the smallest difficulty can feel enormous.

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Not all study abroad or travel plans are going to go perfectly. You may miss a train, or a flight may be cancelled. It might unexpectedly rain or a museum you planned to visit may be closed. Instead of panicking or wallowing in frustration, take a deep breath, assess the situation, and think, how can I fix this, or how can I make the best of it? There will be more flights, more trains, and you can buy an umbrella for the rain.

Sometimes the most you can do wait, but you can ease the long hours by finding ways to fill up your waiting time. When I was stuck in Heathrow airport in London for seven hours, I explored all the shops, tried the different food it had to offer – yes, even an airport can have exciting food to try – and walked around to stretch my legs before my flight. I have a friend who brings a tennis ball with her to airports, and during a thirteen hour layover to New Zealand she met all sorts of fellow travelers who joined her in different makeshift tennis ball games. If you get too bored of hanging out with yourself, there are always other people to get to know.

Even if everything goes according to plan, sometimes it doesn’t end up the way you expect it to. If you don’t like the museum you find yourself in, you don’t have to look at every exhibit. If a restaurant  is too expensive, leave before you order. When I found myself on a horrible audio tour in Pompei, I abandoned the audio recording and explored the ancient city myself and listened in on what other people had to say about it. Another time while visiting Liverpool, I overestimated how far out of the city certain attractions were, so instead of spending the few hours I had trying to find them, I hopped on a city tour bus and saw what there was inside the city to enjoy.

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Pompei and Mt. Vesuvius, Italy

Unexpected circumstances can lead to spontaneous discoveries and adventures. Maybe the museum you planned to go to is closed, but there might be another one that’s open. If you find that it might take too much time to walk somewhere, try a new method of transportation, like the Tube or the Metro. When I visited Poland with a friend, it was so unexpectedly cold outside that, to make sure we didn’t freeze our toes off, we made it a mission to find all different sorts of places that served hot chocolate and find our favorite. We found a small place tucked away just off the city square, and to this day it’s still the best hot chocolate I’ve ever had.

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Best Hot Chocolate Ever!

It may be hard and frustrating, but the most important thing to do when things don’t go right is to stay patient. You may not see it right away, but other opportunities you didn’t expect might be waiting for you. And never be afraid to ask for help. If you’re lost, ask someone for directions. As someone who has gotten lost plenty of times while on my travels, I’ve always found people willing to help. If a language barrier gets in the way, ask around until you find someone you can communicate with- that’s how a friend and I got around Barcelona without knowing much Spanish!

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View from Pargue Guell in Barcelona, Spain

As it turned out, living in a flat far from campus turned out to be one of the best things to happen to me. When a situation doesn’t go as you might expect – as they often do during traveling – the only thing you can do is try to make the best of it. In an effort to avoid the freezing hour walk to my classes that winter, I got a bus pass, and to get my money’s worth out of it I decided to see where it could take me. I hopped on busses that took me to parts of Leeds I never would have seen otherwise, and places well beyond the city. Living in a location I hadn’t expected made me more adventurous, and it helped me bond with other international students who lived in my flat. Together, we learned how to navigate the bus system and became great travel buddies and friends.

Stay calm, and stay positive during mishaps. Traveling is stressful, but sometimes it’s only as stressful as you make it. Be punctual, but be flexible, and it’s important to always be open to adventure and meeting new people. Now when I think back to my housing situation in Leeds, I’m immensely grateful I was thrown a curveball, because I never would have met the people I did or have gone the places I went if I had lived somewhere else. Even when a situation seems like the end of the world, it could just be a chance to experience the world a bit differently than what you expected.

Stephanie DiCarlo

University of Massachusetts Amherst | 9 stories

My name is Steph and I'm a recent grad of the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I traveled to Leeds, England to study abroad during the spring semester of my junior year of college! I love to travel, love to photograph, love to eat, and love to write!


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