Like most other members of Greek life, I’m a red-blooded American. I like my meat red and my women blonde. I prefer my beers cold and my summers hot. I’m a proud resident of the land of the free, and the home of the brave. It’s puzzling to some people why I would want to leave the greatest nation in the world to go study in some second-world, sorry excuse for a country. I had a litany of explanations why leaving the comforts of North America would better me as a person. I told my parents it was for the cultural immersion. I told my professors it was for the diverse educational opportunities. I told my friends it was for the liquor. Truth be told, the real reason I went abroad was for all of the above, and any self-respecting college student should study abroad at least once during their undergraduate time in school.
Students always say studying abroad was the best experience of their life. They’ll tell you that it changed them as a person. They’ll exclaim how much more cultured they are now that they lived amongst a different kind of people. They say that they’ll remember their best moments from their trip for the rest of their lives. I’d agree with almost all of those statements, except I don’t remember my best moments abroad. And I couldn’t be happier about it.
Going abroad for a semester is infinitely better when you’re underage. Instead of wasting time trying to avoid the police while drinking, or relying on a shittily-made fake ID, you can instead enjoy the wonders of legal age-free drinking and cheap booze. In Barcelona, the city that probably regrets hosting me, my favorite bottle of local wine was 1.85 Euro. Me, being the frugal college student that I am, decided to not let such a good deal go to waste and drank more than my fair share of alcohol while abroad, leading to my host mom to call me (after I had drank an entire bottle at dinner) a “borrachador.”
It’s typical to not even hit the bars or clubs in Spain until 1 a.m. The first night out, my fellow Americans and I didn’t know this cultural norm and started our pre-game at 10:00 p.m. We got a bottle of Absinthe, the allegedly hallucinogenic alcohol that has been a staple in foreign drinking folklore for years. We were ready to be blacked out and dancing with the green fairy by the time we left the house at 11:30. When our foreign classmates showed up to our house, slightly buzzed and ready to go out, I was passed out in my room — bag of chips in one hand, and my cell phone in the other.
The green fairy bent me over and fucked me hard. Apparently, thinking that I was going to come to Europe and keep up with kids who had been drinking since they were in diapers was not my best decision. I woke up the next morning to my host mom banging on my door, telling me it was time for breakfast. Eating a meal while visibly hungover and trying not to puke at the sight of food I couldn’t even pronounce was one of the most difficult tasks I had to endure while abroad.
Apparently, American college students are known around the world as a bunch of binge drinking alcoholics, because that’s the way the movies portray us. While it may be hard to try to break away from that mold, you must keep in mind that you are an American Ambassador when you are out of the country. I learned by the end of my trip when to have a glass of wine with your host mom, and when to pound shots with her. One thing I quickly learned abroad is manners, and the ins-and-outs of social drinking. These lessons translate very well back in the states.
It goes without saying that you’re going to have a plethora of stories to share when you get home. Some you’ll be excited to tell your parents, like the time you danced with a bunch of Catalan seniors and got hit on by an 80-year-old Spanish woman. That’ll show them that you explored the culture and went outside of your comfort zone.
Other stories, like the time two French girls asked you if you knew any French, and you accidentally responded with a quote from a Celine Dion song asking them to sleep with you… you may want to keep to your friends. The time you were walking home at 4 a.m. and got kissed by a homeless cross-dresser? You may want to keep that one to yourself. Regardless of what stories you decide to tell to whom, it’s guaranteed that you’ll have a go-to interesting tale for any occasion for the foreseeable future. No more awkward silences during hungover conversations with the person behind you in Starbucks on a Sunday morning.
Don’t worry about the language difference in Europe either: Everyone speaks English. It’s the universal language. I knew fluent Spanish when I went over there and while it helped me navigate, it wasn’t completely necessary. One of the other guys who went with me was more illiterate than a Haitian orphan and was able to seduce a French girl solely through hand motions and facial expressions. According to him, “love” is the universal language. Not English.
You should embrace the opportunity to go abroad. It looks good on a résumé and changes you as a person.