Studying Abroad: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Arrived in Germany

Ready for my study abroad!
Share the love...Share on FacebookShare on Google+Tweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someoneShare on StumbleUpon

Most typical students study abroad when they’re in their late-teens to early-20s. Me? I was 30. I’ve never been the “typical” type of person anyway, so why should my study abroad experience be anything different? From the moment I stepped off of the plane in Prague, to my first time navigating to my dorm in Kiel, to getting lost in Copenhagen, I discovered that not only was I having the time of my life, but I was doing it my way.


Still, I realized that I didn’t know everything. Prior to my study abroad adventure, I didn’t have a lot of friends who had studied abroad themselves. I had a ton of questions, but at the time, didn’t really have anyone close to me that I could ask. Since I know that there are probably tons of people in similar situations, here are the top 5 things I wish I knew before studying abroad!


#1 You will have to pay to use public restrooms in Eastern Europe.

I can’t even begin to tell you how strange of a concept this was for me the first time I discovered that I had to pay to use a public restroom. After 3 flights and landing in Prague, my first time out of the United States, I found a much-needed ATM and pulled out some cash. I had no idea that a chunk of the cash was going to be needed to relieve myself in the city later on in the day.


In my mind, wasn’t having to use a public restroom payment enough? They’re not always clean, but there I was, forking over a few coins to a random lady who happened to be sitting just outside the restrooms with a plate of money (first experience of this: Krakow, Poland). Or sometimes I found myself running through the train station, trying to make my connection, only to find that the entrance to the restroom was guarded by plastic arms. The only way to make those devilish arms move was to feed a few coins into their mouths…only realizing that I had a wad of bill. No coins.


Word to the wise: always have a few coins in your pocket/bag/purse, ready to go when you have to go.


Poland before my study abroad
Solo adventure prior to my study abroad program – bike tour in Kazimierz, Poland


#2 Age is just a number.

Like I mentioned above, I was 30 when I finally experienced what it was like to study abroad. Growing up, I didn’t really know anyone who studied abroad in college, so I was sucked into the widely-accepted theory that only people younger than 22 studied abroad. So when I finally committed to my program in Germany, I was a little worried about the whole experience. Was I going to be the only person in their 30s? Was I going to be the oldest? Would I have anything in common with my classmates?


Related: That One Time I Sang Karaoke in an Irish Pub in Germany


If you’re older than 22 and considering on a study abroad program, don’t worry. Once you get to your location and settled in, age will be the last thing on anyone’s mind. In my case, you’ll be too busy worrying about navigating the local university, communicating to the bus driver that yes, your bus pass is valid, and figuring out how to get all of your class assignments done (on time) while exploring your new home.


We had a wide variety of students in our class, from wide-eyed teenagers eager to (legally) drink beer for the first time, to married folks who left spouses and kids behind. By nature of being together and in a foreign country, you will make friends easily and form a special kind of bond that is hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t had that experience. And while I wasn’t the oldest person in my program, I certainly was in the top 3. Bottom line – it didn’t matter. I made lifelong friends who I still keep in contact with today. You will too. Quit worrying about your age. Nobody cares.


Copenhagen during study abroad
Life-long friends exploring Copenhagen during a quick weekend trip


#3 People will have opinions on what you should and shouldn’t do, and they’ll offer their opinion whether you asked for it or not. When I was debating on whether or not I should even apply to my study abroad program, people were coming out of the woodwork to give me their opinion.


I had a ballsy coworker tell me I was “too old” to study abroad. Really? You’re almost 40 and still live at home, don’t pay rent, can’t keep a job, and have no friends. 


Related: Remembering Auschwitz – The Day My Life Changed Forever


I had a few acquaintances question if I could really afford to “frolic” in Germany for that long. Since when were my finances your concern? Some of us choose adventures instead of  $100 shoes.


I had family members call me crazy and give me that “I’m-seriously-judging-you-and-questioning-your-sanity” look and call me selfish. You’ve never been out of the US and have no idea what it’s like to travel solo and study abroad. 


Molfsee during study abroad
Class field trips were the perfect bonding times to make lasting memories


In each of these situations, I just smiled and thanked them for their opinion, however sincere it was. Most of the people had never studied abroad, never traveled outside of the US, and had different priorities than I did. There’s nothing wrong with having differing opinions: quite the contrary. But there’s also a time and a place to be considered, as well as the intent behind it. Were they really scared for my safety? Were they worried that I was going to get lost, fall in a sewer in Germany and become a hag?


But for all the negative opinions, I was offered some real gems that have stayed with me. I am blessed to have a very supportive mother who encouraged me to follow my dream of studying abroad, even though she didn’t like me being so far away.


Related: Scouring Prague for a Fried Cheese Sandwich


The bottom line is this: everyone will have their own opinion of your actions and will probably tell you what it is. It’s up to you to pick and choose which pieces to listen to and internalize. Don’t let anyone else make your decisions for you. And stand by your decision.


Molfsee during study abroad
And sometimes your travel pictures wind up on the study abroad brochures, like this one did!


#4 There’s nothing wrong with comfort.

When my friends and I were visiting Copenhagen, we’d had a long day and were getting hangry. Since our visit had been pretty last minute and was tightly scheduled between classes, we didn’t really have a lot of time to research Danish cuisine and seek out restaurants to try. We ended up at the Hard Rock Cafe in Copenhagen. We’d been in Germany for over a month and were craving some good-ol’ American burgers. We’d all been to a Hard Rock in the states, so it was a happy break full of nostalgia for us. Having a taste of home made us eager to get out and explore again.


We hear about travelers, both solo and groups, who frown upon anything that reminds them of home, the US, or anything that isn’t “authentic.” Good for them. No, really! They choose to travel a certain way and so did I. There’s no bible for “appropriate travel practices” or a guidebook on the “one true way to travel the world.” Sure, maybe next time I’m in Europe, I won’t visit a restaurant chain that’s based in the US. Or maybe I’ll only eat at McDonald’s. Some travelers like to stay in resorts, all-inclusives, or high-end hotels. Others prefer hostels, Couchsurfing, and AirBnBs. Don’t make your decision based on anything other that your preference and comfort level.


So when I found myself alone in Munich a few weeks after Copenhagen…I stumbled upon the Hard Rock Cafe and just HAD to duck inside for dinner and recharge. It’s amazing what a little piece of comfort and familiarity can do.


Lubeck field trip during study abroad
We all come from different backgrounds, are at different places in our lives, and yet we’ll be friends forever


#5 You will have experiences with your classmates that will change you. I hate to sound all generic and cliche, but there it is. For example: I am not a huge soccer fan, by any stretch of the imagination. I get bored watching it, I still don’t understand why “offsides” is called sometimes but not necessarily when I think it should be called, and for the life of me can’t comprehend all of the various leagues and why teams have the same name (I’m looking at YOU Real!)


When I was in Germany, the World Cup was headed towards the finals and Germany was about to win it all. Every game, I found myself in the mensa with the rest of the student body and my Utah classmates. We cheered, we watched, we painted our faces. We got caught in the rain en route to the games. When Germany won, we spilled onto the streets of Kiel and partied into the wee hours of the morning, only to barely catch the last bus to our dorms for a quick shower and grab our bags for class.



I still don’t like soccer, but I’ll watch the World Cup and will forever cheer for Deutschland!


Partying in the streets after Germany won the world cup
Party like there’s no tomorrow…like we did when Germany won the World Cup!


So there you have it. I was not the same person coming home as I was when I left. My priorities changed and the one piece of advice I gave my brothers as they discussed their college plans was: go study abroad!


Have you studied abroad? What was your experience? Where did you go?


Stay Up-to-date!

Signup now and receive an email once I publish new content.

I will never give away, trade or sell your email address. Ain't nobody got time for that!

29 thoughts on “Studying Abroad: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Arrived in Germany

  1. You guys look like you had a ball. My daughter did a study abroad in Italy. I am a strong supporter of the importance of the experience this brings! And why I can’t get over having to pay to use a public restroom?!?!!?

  2. It sounds like so much fun. And of course you shouldn’t have worried about your age, who cares, right! 😀 I’m so glad you’ve had this experience. I can see from this post that it meant so much to you personally. 🙂

  3. Studying abroad has a charm of its own. Not only does it expand your world view but also gives you lucrative opportunities. Those are some useful tips. In India, my country, you can find many free public toilets as well as paid ones. So it is not as much of a shock to me.

  4. Wow, I cant believe people had the balls to tell you you’re too old. I believe you’re never too old to study and learn new things. I also think if you have the opportunity to go overseas to do it, even better! You learn way more, you meet new people and you open your world up. This is such a great post — hope it encourages more people to study abroad no matter their age! Haha on the whole pay for the washroom — it is my worst thing about Europe because I always need to go!!

    1. Thanks girl! Yeah I’m always amazed at how forward people can be. I don’t mind it when people I’m close to speak their mind, but it’s weird when acquaintances and maybe people I don’t interact with on a regular basis try to tell me how to live my life. I take it all in stride!

  5. You always crack me up in your posts, and this one’s no exception! I love your attitude to studying abroad, and you’re so right, no-one gives a hoot about age. You’re all in it together, and timing I find is key! It looks like you had an amazing time in Germany, and I’m sure you returned home with a new perspective 🙂

  6. I thought it’s only in Indonesia you have to pay to use the public restrooms. (But it’s not every one of it. Only in certain places). And I wonder if it’s legal or just a local scam.

    1. Sometimes there were turnstiles like you would find at the subway, but sometimes it was a random person. When you’re racing to the toilet, you’re not really thinking straight! 🙂

  7. I’m also Mormon and instead of being cooped up trying to be what it was suggested I should be at age 34; I decided to start my own travel blog. It inspires me that you did the same thing, and ended up ignoring the naysayers – got out there – and were your own person. Bravo! Really age is just a number, your completely right – I feel like when you are out doing your own adventure, you have this amazing self discovery that is worth than any monetary value that was placed on the trip or study abroad program.

    1. Good on you Janiel! I had to realize that part of the reason I was getting so many negative responses was probably due to a variety of reasons, so I just kept chugging along at what felt right!

  8. Studying abroad is definitely a lifetime experience as it expands our vision. Studying abroad means meeting with many friends from different cultures and we get to know them personally not reading by books. It looks you are enjoying your studies with your multi-cultural friends. That jumping photo is lovely as you all looked so relaxed.

  9. haha..this is rather sweet and funny. I had such a chuckle on the ballsy co-worker too. I agree nobody cares, in the end you do what you want! I decided to study abroad at 29 and had the best time ever and made amazing friends along the way from different age groups. cool post

  10. I agree that while people’s comments can be well meaning, ultimately we all have to decide what we want to do! I’ve always danced to my own beat and I’m very happy with how it’s worked out. I try to be compassionate with people, they are probably voicing their own insecurities.

  11. Schools and colleges are no less than an adventure and if its abroad and your companions are all from different background it’s more fun and excitement. Your post made me nostalgic you have great friends and with friends, age is just a number. Loved your picture with the windmills, where was that taken?

    1. Thank you so much! It was taken just outside of Kiel, Germany. There’s an open-air museum that features old buildings and structures that have been relocated and refortified. This particular structure is the Algermissen’s Bock windmill.

  12. I can so relate to this post! I myself am studying abroad right now (in US) and that experience has broadened my views so much. Age seriously is a number, plus meeting people from so many background, different cultures, and with so much experience – the whole study phase is a journey in itself!

  13. People will have all kinds of opinion, let us not bother about that. This is such a positive post to inspire people to go to study at any age. Studying in a different country expands the horizon and makes you a different person altogether. And the first point was very helpful. I experienced it for the first time myself 5 years when I landed in Stockholm. I dint know we had to pay to use washrooms but now we have such places in India too.

  14. Love this post!!!! I also studied abroad in Ghana and Australia spanning 19 months!!! I definitely agree about the comfort and familiarity thing and screw what other things! I went to the expat supermarket in Ghana some days and bought just what I needed 🙂 Looks like you had an epic time on your travels!

  15. Thank you for a great post! Very interesting to read, and you have some great points.

    I laughed a bit when you wrote about all the worries that your family and friends had about you going about. Of course, you have no idea what it’s like to travel solo and study abroad if you haven’t done it. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it!! I have stayed abroad in different countries for more than 4 years over the last 5 years. But it actually doesn’t feel like that long time. I wrote about it here if you are interested:

    So true, that there is no “right” way to travel, and something one just wants a little homely comfort. I have it with watching TV series in my native language (Danish) when abroad for a long time. Let me know if you go back to Denmark, and I will send you some recommendations on restaurants 😛 And of course, hope that you enjoyed visiting Copenhagen 😉

  16. Studying abroad is really a good idea. I left USfor Canada too but hell no! My folks were like those building the tower of Babel: so much division. Those who even wanted me to study abroad didn’t want Canada. I just had to stick my gun that I’d bhappy with my decision and here I am, happy and thankful I made such decision. Reading your post now, I feel secured. I’m not the only crazy person and I’m sure others in our shoes would find comfort reading this too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *