This might not be very interesting or funny but will perhaps be a number of things that you might like to have in mind when you travel. I’m separating everything into sections so you can skip bits, should you so choose to do so. A lot will be fairly obvious – hence, the title. This is a true story from one of the students in my program; I wasn’t there, but you can be assured that the lady in the coat-check room had herself a real good laugh.
A. Traveling Abroad (General/Tourist Overview)
B. Traveling to Spain
C. Traveling to Ireland
D. Study Abroad
E. Study Abroad in Spain
F. Study Abroad in Ireland
Here we go:
A. TRAVELING ABROAD
1. DO NOT BE STUPID. This applies to every other item that I will mention here, so if you’re already disinterested, you can quit here and fly by the seat of your pants the rest of the way and be fine.
2. Bring good shoes. Does this sound like I’m your grandmother? Maybe so, but if you wear bad shoes, the following parts of your anatomy will hurt/ache/make you pay: feet, ankles, shins, knees, hips, back, YOUR ENTIRE BODY. This is a lesson I learned the hard way, so only bring shoes that you can walk in for extended periods. When you expect to be walking in the same pair of shoes for several days, make them walking/running/hiking shoes. If you can’t bring optimal footwear, then bring extra insoles and find a little space in your bag for them. Even if you don’t use them, someone you’re traveling with might – and it changes the tone of the entire trip.
3. There are a few sets of words and phrases that are truly useful to know in non-English speaking countries, so you can put them on a card, take it around with you, and basically hack it from there:
Left – right – straight
Do you speak English?
What time is it?
What time is it?
Entrance – exit
Numbers, at least 1-20, though it’s good to know more, of course
Foods of the region and names of basic ingredients (bread, onion, apple…)
It’s also good to know the bare-bones history of the place, but you can also take tours and do the same thing. Speaking of tours:
4. Just about every major city has a free tour you can take. Don’t bother with the ones where you pay up front, because those guides may not try as hard. I took the free tour in Paris and had a blast: you pay as much as you thought that the tour was worth at the end, and if I’d had it, I would have paid her some serious dough. I have used Sandeman’s New Europe multiple times, and they never disappoint: use Trip Adviser for any others you’re thinking about.
5. The ‘Off Season’ is a nasty, nasty thing. Things will not be open at the same hours as in the summer, so make sure that you go to the things that are most important to you first. Also note that some of the free stuff may not be open or available in the wintertime – in Barcelona, for example, the free tour does not run on the off season. However, things are SO MUCH CHEAPER: hostels, especially. You can also count on slightly fewer Asian tourists, the scourge that comes bearing cameras and pots of money, and generally without sense or appreciation for what they are seeing. This is not a dig on the inhabitants of the great continent of Asia, JUST the tourists. You have been warned.
6. It’s good to use public transportation abroad – just make sure that the system is known to be safe enough for basically everyone to use. Also keep in mind that thieves love grabbing purses or whatever is in someone’s hand as the doors are closing so that they cannot be caught by the offended party, so take care. Stow everything and keep your hand on your bag, which can mean that if you are in an unsafe area, you can wear your backpack to the front rather than the back. It’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with the public transportation system of the city that you’re going to be in, as well as a street map in order to be able to navigate easier – it takes five minutes.
7. When you travel, its important to keep hydrated and to have some form of comestible on your person: I personally like dried fruit, as it’s compact, filling, and nutritious. Apricots are my personal fave: there are good apricots in Spain.
8. If you are fluent (or fluent enough) in another language in English, lead with that in non-English speaking countries. It makes you less that tourist in Hawaiian shorts and a bright yellow shirt – less crassly American. There are some countries – like France – that don’t really appreciate Spanish people, but I still led with Spanish, because being Spanish is still better than being the American stereotype.
9. If you are a student, DO NOT FORGET YOUR ID. You don’t really need to get the International ID, but if you are with a program, check with them so see if they have better prices if you do decide to get it. You will get discounts at landmarks, or maybe even get in free, which is always convenient.
10. Banks. If you are going abroad, you’ll want to let your bank where you are going to be sure that there won’t be holds on your money. I have had an absolutely nasty time with this – to the extent that I am seriously considering switching banks. The possible holds on your money are as follows (keep in mind that this only implies if the country you’re in is deemed ‘dangerous’):
a. Getting money from ATMs
b. Buying things in stores
c. Buying things online
d. Buying things online from companies that have been deemed hazardous
e. Buying things online from companies in a different country than the one you’re living in
11. So if you’re trying to sleep at night and there’s a bunch of people screaming in the street, do not be afraid – well, unless the political climate is unstable – because it will be because of a soccer game. People love their soccer, so get involved or bring earplugs.
12. Chocolate is better abroad. Keep in mind that Hershey’s is not allowed to be called chocolate, because it only has chocolate liqueur in it: it’s artificially flavored and colored and Europe’s chocolate kicks its butt.
13. If you want to party, you won’t be able to appreciate the sights in the morning. Your choice, but there is always a danger if you are in a place without a support network. I would suggest not getting wasted without friends around. If you are living with a family, they will probably not want you to return home if you are plastered.
14. Kindles are not real books. They are not a substitute for real books: they are a pale comparison to the real thing. However, they are useful/small enough for traveling.
15. If you see Kinder Eggs, try them. You will rediscover your childhood and possibly scream like a little girl. This is all a part of the process.
16. Three gallon plastic bags are available at your local supermarket: I use a trick I learned on my first long canoe trip, which is to put clothes in these bags and then to compress them (sitting on them generally works). This is a great method to use because everything suddenly becomes that much easier to find, and well, smaller, which is useful for those week-long trips when you’re living out of your backpack. Just be careful not to sit on these bags too fast, because they are liable to break on you, which sucks, to say the least.
17. Backpacks kick rolling bag’s butts. Rolling bags look really cool on nice, even, shiny surfaces, but Europe has a lot of cobblestone. Do you really want to torture yourself when a backpack can go anywhere? For truly big bags, sure, go for the rolly ones, but anything you aren’t sure about, pick up the backpack – and see if it has clips for your waist, as that really does help distribute the weight, even if it does scream “I’M A TOURIST!!!!!!!” It’s not like they weren’t going to know anyway. If you’re really worried, you can go for a hiking backpack, which can look at least marginally cooler while traveling. My backpack has my name embroidered on it – which I immediately figured out was only cool in Maine when I got here – so now when I travel, lots of people magically know my name after walking behind me. I also look like a turtle with zippers.
18. Bartering is a big deal in some places; they won’t take you seriously unless you do it. What you do is keep your money handy but out of sight, walk up to a stall, see if there is anything you want. Haggle on something you have mild interest first, then express disinterest at that price. Then pick up what you want. Haggle. WIN.
19. In the European Union, people fly from place to place without needing to go through customs or be questioned about their stay. That also means that you won’t get stamps in your passport unless you ask for it – something to keep in mind.
20. Feeding the birds at a pond in a city may have its allure, but for Christ sake, don’t feed the birds bread. Bread is not what they were made to eat; it just makes them sick. Instead, you can bring lettuce or other greens. Heck, if you want to feed swans, you can just rip up some grass and toss it in the water – cheap entertainment.
21. Trip Adviser is the bomb dot com.
22. The holidays are a rough time for finding shops that are open – that means that if you enter a country without food reserves of your own, you ay have to do a bit of searching to find what you need. Also assume that the day after the holiday will be pretty shut down – most of the tourist attractions will be open (and there’s never anything wrong with exploring sans expectations or destinations).
23. Liquid amounts for flights are positively hellish. So keep everything under 100 milliliters, and make sure that the bottles you use are labeled. A good reference: 1 mL = 1 cm3 = 1 gram.
24. ON PAIN OF DEATH: NEVER SWITCH AIRPORTS IN LONDON. IT IS A BAD, BAD IDEA THAT YOU WILL REGRET DEEPLY.
25. When you go somewhere with a dramatically different exchange rate, it’s useful to write down different amounts in dollars with their corresponding values. When I was in Norway (kronor), I wrote down amounts for 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, and 500 kronor. You can also do the exchange by looking at those amounts in dollars, but it may not be quite as useful. I calculated high numbers for the conversion rate of kronor because the way the money works is different than ours (30 kronors for a sandwich equals a five dollar sandwich), so you may want an idea of the nature of the currency before you pick the numbers you want to work with.
26. The standards for tipping are lower in Europe, and are sometimes included in your bill (it’s called “service” on the bill or menu). Also good to remember in restaurants is that different things may indicate that you’re done, but if you sit back and get your hands off your silverware, you are sending a sure-fire message. Nonverbal communication is always a good thing, especially if you don’t speak the language.
27. The most important thing to do after your trip is over – however long – is to preserve your memory of it. You can do this by consciously attempting to remember as many details as possible; the easiest way to remember details is to live in the moment while you are there. No, you do not have a car/house/whatever payment. No, you really don’t need to think about the paper you’ll have to write when this is all over. Yes, you did close the garage door. So stop thinking about those things and use your senses to take in this new place. For longer trips, it helps to write down what you did every day: a simple list will work.
28. Keeping a small notebook on you when you’re on the move is great, as it makes it so much easier to keep track of all sorts of bits and pieces: directions, timetables, conversions, emergency numbers, vocab words, notes, impressions on your experience, et cetera. They’re also great for provoking memories that you might have otherwise forgotten.
B. TRAVELING TO SPAIN
1. There are two things that I am not sure of how far these will apply, but to be safe I’m putting them here. Do not go out in public looking like a train wreck that got doused with lighter fluid and ignited. This means that you cannot wear pajamas unless you are going to bed or gym clothes unless that is your only stop: do not go to school wearing sweats, because everyone changes at the gym. Eating in public is also generally a no-no: take your lead from other people and act accordingly. Eating in class is discouraged, as well, as it is seen as disrespect, but check with your professors if you can if you are dying of starvation.
2. There’s a magical store called ‘El Corte Ingles.’ Do not be fooled. It may have everything that you could ever possibly need, but it is expensive. However, this is where you can get international ingredients.
3. There is an endangered species in Spain: beautiful men. Prepare yourself for disappointment, but don’t get too down. Italy is home to several aesthetic men, and I believe that Spanish women are some the most beautiful women I have ever seen. It is my belief in this moment that if I wanted to, I could chuck a stick and hit one or all of the following: an ugly man, a beautiful woman, or a tiny dog. I am surprised that I haven’t stepped on one of the dogs here yet, and laugh every time I see a man walking his wife’s dog.
4. Don’t used the usted/ustedes form of verbs in Spain: address strangers with the ‘tu’ form.
5. Don’t expect to get into a bullfight with ease here. They are pretty rare – in Bilbao, they only happen in one week in August when the city does its celebrations, and are now no longer happening in Barcelona as of this September or October. A lot of Spanish people are disgusted by bullfights, along with a lot of the other gory traditions that exist here.
6. In every region of Spain there are different languages. In the Basque Country, people speak Spanish and most also speak Basque, or Euskadi. Basque is the Spanish word and Euskadi is the Basque word. In Cataluna (where Barcelona is), they speak Catalan; in Andalucia (south of Spain), they speak Andalucian, and so on. Euskadi happens to be of Celtic origin, which means that it is unintelligible, but the others tend to be associated with other languages as well as Spanish.
7. Flamenco is from Andalucia, which means that you can’t see it elsewhere, unless you want to get fleeced by money-grubbers. And you definitley want to see the real thing.
8. Typical foods from Spain:
a. Tortilla de patatas
Potato/Spanish Tortilla: it’s not even close to a Mexican tortilla; what it is is potatoes held together with eggs. It’s very good and a staple at bars.
This is a rice dish that generally has surf and turf, vegetables, and saffron. It’s great and if you don’t want all the weird stuff that’s in there (there is an aspect of discovery when eating traditional paella), you can generally find other versions.
This is a typical dessert that I hate. It’s eggy with caramelized sugar on top, and some people like it. Try it and spit it out in your napkin if it nauseates you.
d. Arroz con Leche
Yummy. This is rice pudding with cinnamon in it and is fantastic. If you don’t like this, aliens have fried your brain or you just haven’t eaten the good stuff.
Wine and fruit stuff. Most people like it.
It’s vodka, mint, sugar, water, and bubbles. I haven’t had it yet, but it’s on the to-do list.
This is a Basque thing: Coca-Cola and red wine. Don’t bash it until you try it. It’s a drink that everyone enjoys. I can even stomach it.
9. Cathedrals in Spain generally have free admission. The one place I was ever charged to get into was La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (a whopping 10.50 with a student ID), and that place is under construction.
10. ‘Tranquila’ is the word that almost turned me into an axe murderer. It means ‘calm down’ or ‘shit happens.’ When people say it – to me at least – it’s wildly condescending. But don’t get too fluffed up about it. Tranquila.
11. The Basque people have what is called ‘a stone face.’ This means that they will openly stare at you in public; if you don’t like it, make prolonged eye contact. They will freak out and break away.
However, it is good to note that unless you know otherwise, you don’t want to make too much eye contact with people in new places. In France, for example, a woman looking at a man in the eyes can end up getting kissed – you don’t want to communicate ‘let’s get it on’ unless you are really ready for whatever that person will throw at you (also interesting: STDs don’t go away when you travel to another country…).
12. The ‘siesta’ is a period of time that happens every day from 2:00 to about 4:30. No shops will be open and no one will be in the street. It is REALLY annoying for me, but it’s also a good idea to get some sleep during this time – or, at the very least, to linger an hour or two over lunch.
13. The Spanish schedule is as follows: wake at seven or whenever and eat breakfast, snack at about 11 or twelve, lunch at two or three, siesta, snack at about six or seven, dinner at about nine or ten. Make sure you get enough sleep around this schedule – there’s a real difference, so don’t wear yourself out.
14. If you don’t feel like paying for a bottle of water when tap is the exact same thing (and water is safe in all European cities as far as I know, so don’t worry), ask for ‘agua de grifo’: you’ll be asking for tap water and saving yourself two to three euros.
15. Happenings in Spain:
a. The Duchess of Alba
This lady is the ugliest woman I have ever seen, and has more titles than even the King himself. She is forever on the news so if you ever catch yourself wondering who the woman with the frizzy white afro is, that’s her. A couple of months ago she got married to a man 20 years her junior (she’s 80); I feel sorry for the poor sod.
This is a terrorist organization from the Basque country: a while ago (2-3 months), they declared peace, which people here take as genuine. No more attacks or burning cars.
c. Domestic violence against women is a huge political issue: men will kill their wives and sometimes even their children, too.
d. Unemployment is insane in Spain, as it is everywhere else.
16. People here don’t listen to an awful lot of Spanish music, so don’t expect a radical musical education.
C. TRAVELING TO IRELAND
1. The Irish like to drink. Prepare yourself. There are some small towns where there are more pubs than people, and on most streets there is at least pub anyway. The stereotype of the three-o-clock doddering old drunk Irish guy is completely true.
2. The second official language of Ireland is Gaelic (which many people will simply refer to as ‘Irish.’); it’s almost completely incomprehensible, but is a major part of the culture, even if fluent Irish speakers are few and far between. There is also Scottish Gaelic, but it’s not really the same language (if only for the accent, which, trust me, is as thick as a brick). There are precisely four words that you will need to now:
a. Slante (slaantah): what you say when you go out drinking; it functions the same as ‘cheers’ does.
b. Craic: this is ‘fun,’ loosely translated. People will use this usually in some derivation of: ‘that’s good craic.’
c. Failte (faaltah): means ‘welcome.’ If you see this on a hostel or hotel, that means that they’re open for business and pandering to you (which is okay every now and then).
d. Garda: there are no police in Ireland, but that’s only because they’re called garda. It’s in this section, because it’s an Irish word.
3. If you’re going to Ireland to acquire an accent, your first step will be to master ‘it’ll be grand.’ This is also a great motto to use for travel and life in general, so embrace it. Enjoy it. It’ll be grand.
4. Ireland is a famously Catholic country (though people are less religious now than they have been; still, heritage is heritage), so it’s good to know its saints – Patrick and Bridget. Patrick is known for converting Ireland to Christianity and Bridget is known for the great healing she did. Each saint has their own day – not just Patrick. Each town and city will also have their own patron saint; for Cork, that was St. Finbarr, who broke ground for a monastery that eventually grew into the city.
5. St. Patrick’s Day in Ireland is, frankly, overrated. The party scene is much better on every other day but that, so getting your hopes up for it…unwise. During the day, there will be things going on in every major town, usually a parade and some other events. Mine was spent in Waterford, where I was able to get a front-row spot by the mayor’s pavilion: I was able to enjoy the parade (in Cork the crowd was too thick for everyone to see), as well as the Irish dancing and reenactments for the mayor. I took the bus back to Cork in time to catch some nightlife, which was way too crowded for comfort. At all times, my body was touching two or three other bodies. The one place that was not crowded was lit by candlelight because the power had gone out. So: go to a smaller town to see a parade and drink the next night, when the brave have powered through their hangover and can party again, and when you will be able to maintain some level of personal space.
6. Food prices in Ireland are slightly higher than you would expect here, so budget for that. It’s not a huge increase, and there are sales, but still.
7. Chocolate in Ireland is generally Cadbury’s, a decent brand. But not my favorite. Sorry, but the Irish know jack about chocolate.
8. The dress code in Ireland is much more casual than it might be elsewhere; however, don’t go out of the house in your pajamas or in sweats. Shirt, jeans, sneakers, and a sweater is standard student or casual wear. It’s pretty much the same as in America. However, ladies need not partake of the teenage and twenty-something Irish woman’s affinity for caked-on makeup.
9. Irish men are generally good looking, but slightly shorter on the average. But, ah. The accents.
10. Typical foods in Ireland generally include heavy amounts of grease and meat, so it’s a wonder that the entire population isn’t seriously obese. UNLESS…the Irish don’t actually eat that stuff on a regular basis. Ireland is home to a number of good restaurants, but none really specialize in national cuisine. However, with that said, try fish and chips. The best place in Cork is a place called Jackie Lennox’s: it’s one of those places where they hand you your food and you either eat it standing up or you take it home with you (and where the ketchup flows freely).
11. Many Irish towns host a kind of unofficial treasure hunt on Saturdays: your mission is to find the street market that will most likely be there and to enjoy it. Every one is different and a great place to find gifts for people (including yourself, every now and then…).
D. STUDY ABROAD
1. If you are in an apartment, you’ll have a utilities bill every month. This means that you should keep only the lights you need turned on and keep your showers under ten minutes (which means turning the water on and off as necessary – I keep my showers short anyway and shave my legs using the intermittent water method). If you’re in a homestay, you may end up having an uncomfortable conversation about your water and electricity use. It’s good practice anyway, good habits to get into.
2. I brought two pairs of pants and a skirt I wasn’t that interested in anymore. Bad move. Toss the clothes you don’t like and bring only what you know you will wear.
3. On that note, Spain’s stores are engineered to suit women who are the physical equivalent of a stick. If you have assets or big feet, make sure that you won’t need to rely on the stores to keep yourself decent. But still keep in mind you don’t need your whole closet. A good set of numbers (this can change depending on gender):
Three pants, two shorts, one skirt
Nine long-sleeved shirts, of different weights, three tee shirts
Two pairs of casual walking shoes, one pair running/walking/hiking shoes, sandals, flip flops for hostel showers
And other items, of course, but these are the basics.
4. Buy your hair dryer and straightener – if necessary – while abroad. A different kind of outlet can fry your appliances.
5. Buy a transformer or converter for your electronics. I don’t know the difference between the two, but if the outlets look different than in the states, you’ll need one.
6. Buy all the makeup you’ll need in the States: it’s expensive here.
7. Peanut butter is available abroad, so don’t make your parents pay ten times what it’s worth to ship it to you. You can get peanut butter in El Corte Ingles in Spain.
8. If you are finding housing through a program, you are likely to be paying through the nose where other students in similar apartments pay much less. You may want to look for an apartment on your own, depending on the circumstances. If you’re in a homestay, don’t change it: it’s worth every penny.
9. This isn’t going in the sections for general travel because I know if you’re studying abroad, you’re worried about having to be one of those people that don’t have money for food at the end of your stay – fear not! Here are my recommendations for cheap eats for when you’re traveling, from the least costly option to the most:
a. Food from a supermarket: when I’m on a trip, this is breakfast and dinner. It’ll be bread, fruit, and chocolate. On my recent trip to Italy I knew we would be moving within Italy by train, so I opted for a jar of jam, which I finished in exactly a week. If you’re in your host city, this an obvious DUH. If you eat out a lot, you are doomed. Trust me, if you’re afraid to cook, even a failed attempt and then a successful one is cheaper than eating out. The stove does NOT bite back. Though do keep in mind that using the oven will be expensive utilities-wise, so it’s always good to cook more than one thing at once: roasted vegetables are a good choice (toss these on the veggies: oil, salt, pepper, maybe balsamic vinegar if you’re into that sort of thing, put on a pan, and enjoy).
b. Bakeries are a surprising revelation. I’ve eaten lunch out of bakeries several times: generally there will be a few savory options, not just sweet ones, for substantially less than truly eating out.
c. Kebabs are fabulous wads of food that can slake your hunger just by looking at them. They probably have the calorie content of an elephant, but are cheap (2-6 euros), and are all over the place in Europe (at least, in Spain, Italy, and France). It’s meat – or falafel for me – lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and sauces in pita bread. It’s flavorful, warm, and quick – just try not to get it all over yourself.
d. Restaurants are a great way to experience culture, so I would suggest that you go to them once a day while on trips. Try not to cave in so much while you are settled into your host city, as that is a no-bueno for your wallet. You can generally find cheap places, if you’re willing to look around for a bit. If you are staying at a nice hostel, you can ask the people there for recommendations and they will draw all over your map with awesome places to go.
10. Hostels: the site I use to find places is http://www.hostelworld.com. Plug in your desired city and country – and I do believe this is worldwide, so if you aren’t going to Europe, fear not! – and see the number of results. If there’s more than ten, narrow down the results so that the rating is 80% and above (this is a great general rule to follow that hasn’t led me wrong yet), and by your desired price range, if possible. Prices are also REALLY good on the off-season…
You’ll need shower flops and earplugs, if you are sensitive to people being obnoxious as you are falling asleep. Honestly, hostels can be really bad but also incredible, so if you take a few extra minutes you can find yourself a real deal. It’s good to note that in some countries there will be a city tax of a couple of euros a night that’s not included in the price, so don’t be surprised or offended if that pops up. Italy is that way, for instance.
11. Bring a compact/camping towel for hostels. You may not be able to rent a towel in some places and regular towels are just space-eaters.
12. Flights suck. If you can, travel by train. BUT, that said, here are some sites to look at:
a. Ryanair: this one tends to be the cheapest, and for a reason. The airports tend to be out of the way and hard-sided bags have to be a certain size (yay backpacks!), but as I said, it’s cheap. They also only allow one carry-on, so if you want to get away with it, put your handbag under your jacket or shirt.
c. http://www.scyscanner.es (Spain) You can also change this to just http://www.scyscanner.com, but it’s super confusing, complete with cape and awkward underpants.
d. http://www.vueling.com (Spain)
e. http://www.kayak.com (Expensive)
13. Homestay Vocab
Furniture in each room in the house (I didn’t know the word for ‘counter top’ on the first day, gosh what havoc that was)
Words to describe your family
Ingredients (your mom will describe food to you)
Moods (to express yourself)
14. Couch surfing is an option if you want to house yourself while traveling for cheap: people put their homes on the website and you take it under your own prerogative to contact them and discuss dates. This can go very, very well but can also go quite badly, depending on who you stay with. This is a massive risk, and you won’t ever know how it will go – your choice.
15. Let’s face it. The United States is a total idiot when it comes to measurement; the metric system is in in a big way everywhere else. So when you are confronted with your not-Fahrenheit oven and a deep desire for the cookies you can’t get anywhere else, know that: 350 degrees Fahrenheit is about 175 degrees Celsius, and 400 degrees F. is about 205 degrees C. Google is a wonderful thing. Also, you can find cup and teaspoon measuring devices in some countries, but if you bake frequently, it might be a good idea to bring your own or to ask the office of your program.
16. Blogging is wonderful – mine certainly has given me a lot of satisfaction – but just know that there are many ways to do it and it’s not for everyone. Say what’s important to you, and for God’s sake, remember to capitalize proper nouns and that grammar is the foundation of a well-ordered society. Cavemen? No grammar.
E. STUDY ABROAD IN SPAIN
1. The locks on the doors and windows are different here. For doors, you have a funny looking key that you turn in the door a certain number of times to lock and unlock it (just practice for a few minutes and you’ll get it). For windows, you move the handle to the horizontal position and swing the window wide open or move the handle 180 degrees to crack the window open.
2. There is a deal that Spain has with China that makes it easy for Chinese to immigrate to Spain. What they’ve done is open stores that sell cheap Chinese crap. This is where you get your school supplies and your odds and ends. The Spanish call these stores ‘chinos’ and they are all over the place. Walk around for a while in your area and you’ll find at least two in a five minute radius. I’ve got four or five to choose from. The marvel of the Chinese Store is that you get to buy this stuff DIRECTLY from Chinese people. You just don’t get that in America!
3. Milk comes in containers that are not kept in the refrigerated section. There is some fresh milk, but the other kind is more common. I have had no reason to buy milk for myself, but I am told that on the bottom of each carton is a number from one to four. This indicated the number of times that it has been processed and put back on the shelf: one indicates once and four indicates four times. I’d advise buying ones and twos.
a. Don’t say please or thank you, as to Spanish people it feels like you’re being too formal, like you’re dining with royalty.
b. Basque moms push food on you like you wouldn’t believe; my mother is sure that I will be an emaciated stick when I leave, but I eat only as much as I want. It sucks to waste food, but don’t make yourself sick to please your family. Laugh about it and move on.
c. Ladies, I know there’s always a satisfaction to wearing sexy lingerie underneath your clothes, but I wouldn’t bring anything too racy with you abroad. Remember who will be doing your laundry.
d. Host gifts are always good – but remember that there will likely be a student in your room after you, so don’t bring anything that will leave a permanent mark on the house. Something small or a food item would be good. I brought cards from my grandmother (her paintings on the cards) and maple candy, which were a hit.
e. If you aren’t confident with your Spanish, don’t be too afraid: you can use what you have and make gestures. You will also be surprised how fast your Spanish will improve: it certainly crept up on me.
F. STUDY ABROAD IN IRELAND
1. Again, use your student card: for example, if you want to go to Dublin from Cork, you can get a return ticket for 30 euros, as well as one less hour of travel time, as well as comfort, as well as freedom from soul-sucking despair (also known as bus travel). It’s totally worth it.
2. Don’t study like Irish students do. Just don’t. The cycle: binge drinking and occasional destruction of communal and/or building fixtures, then frantic studying, then mock-five frenzied studying accompanied by reckless abuse of caffeine, then celebratory binge-drinking. Save your liver.
3. The Irish accent is generally not hard to deal with (except for construction workers. I don’t get it), but just know that the word ‘aluminum’ sounds completely different in Ireland and the U.K. It confused me to no end when I first heard it.
4. Getting a student visa in Ireland isn’t a terrible process – you needn’t think about it too much until you get there, really. You land at an Irish airport and show the nice (read: grumpy) man your acceptance letter to the university you’re going to, and then he’ll stamp your passport about sixteen times; one of those stamps will include the date you need to register with the Garda by. There’s also the matter of the Irish bank account, in which you need to deposit a certain amount of money for each month that you’ll be in the country. Do some research and make sure you’re prepared; it’ll be grand.
So that’s it. That was a lot of work, and hopefully some good information.