¡Hola a todos! My name is Cameron, I study biochemistry (pre-med) and I’m heading into my senior year at UT. This summer I will be interning in Barcelona at Hospital El Pilar, a private hospital in the city, with their international patient care division. I provide an extra layer of support for international patients, particularly dealing with insurance, as it can be very stressful to be hospitalized in a foreign country. Additionally, I’ll have the opportunity to shadow doctors throughout the hospital when I have downtime. I only started my internship yesterday, so I won’t discuss it further, I’ll save that for a future blog.
The first week of a study abroad involves a flurry of stresses: jet lag, culture shock, moving into a new dorm/apartment/house, and before all that you have the stress of international travel! My first flight departed Austin on Wednesday a little afternoon and I landed in Philadelphia by 5 pm. I was supposed to have a short 1.5-hour layover before flying to Barcelona but after mechanical difficulties, my flight was delayed one, then two, then three hours… in all my flight was delayed over five hours. Because of this, I didn’t arrive in Barcelona until an hour after the designated airport pickup time for my program, so I had to make my way to my housing on my own. On top of that, when I connected to WiFi at the airport I received a notification that my bag would be arriving on a later flight! Thankfully, this turned out to be a glitch in Unnamed Airline’s system, and my bag was waiting for me at the carousel. Also thankfully, there were 3 other UT students in the program on the same flight, so we were able to bond during our layover and navigate the airport together and split a taxi.
Along with traveling, I think culture shock is the other main source of stress when starting a study abroad, though culture shock can sometimes take weeks to develop (after a ‘honeymoon’ phase). Personally, I haven’t experienced much culture shock yet and doubt I will. It’s certainly easier to adjust to a European culture as compared to Asia where there are also many UT students studying. I’ve also spent two summers living in Ecuador, the first during high school in a rural Andean community while working with local youth on leadership skills, and this past summer shadowing doctors in the capital city of Quito. In contrast to those experiences, Barcelona feels like home.
I want to give a few tips to make traveling less stressful and to hopefully mitigate culture shock based on my experiences.
Travel: always pack one or two changes of clothes into your carry-on, in addition to your toiletries, because… well… things happen. I didn’t do this because I ran out of room in my backpack, but I would’ve been in quite the pickle had my bag actually been delayed. Similarly, packing some pajama pants (or sweatpants) can make long international flights much more enjoyable. Also, always, always, always get travel insurance or international health insurance. If you’re doing a study abroad through UT or anywhere this should be required/included, but even if you’re traveling alone this is a must. Just today at my internship a man had to pay nearly $10,000 for a deposit at the hospital because of a potentially life-threatening illness and cross his fingers that his insurance company at home would reimburse him. Had he purchased insurance for his trip this could’ve easily been avoided. Finally, if your phone carrier doesn’t offer free or cheap international data plans, I highly recommend purchasing a sim card with a pay as you go data and calling plan in the country (your phone must be unlocked). It should be significantly cheaper and more flexible than what most carriers offer. I got 3GB of data and more calling than I’ll need for only 20 euros, and I can add more for a similar price if I run out.
Culture shock: the best advice I can give for culture shock is to just dive into the culture of wherever you are and don’t try to compare it to the US. Basically, get used to saying yes. Do you want to go to a local park? Yes. Do you want to try a local dish (that may sound quite odd to you)? Yes. Learn a local dance? Yes. Just say yes to everything within reason and accept the culture as your own. If you push back and try to compare to your own culture at home… well, that’s how you end up with culture shock.
Traveling, jet lag, culture shock, moving in/unpacking – all of these are temporary issues. There is, however, one issue that I don’t have much advice for dealing with: being away from friends, family, and significant others. Living in another culture is a one-of-a-kind experience I would recommend to everyone, but it’s hard to ignore that to do so you must leave much of your life behind for a month or two, or even an entire semester (I actually chose to do a summer program because I didn’t want to miss out on one of only 8 semesters with my friends in college). All I can say is to call your loved ones every week, or more often if you have the chance, and remember you’ll see them again in a month, or two, or three. Study abroad will be one of the best experiences of your life, try not to let anything get in the way of an incredible experience!
This post was contributed by Cameron Goff, a 2018 Global Ambassador.