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10 Tips to Surviving Europe

I’ve learned more than I could put into words while being in Europe. Some of those things don’t really apply to anyone except for me, some apply solely to stupid Americans, and some apply to everyone everywhere no matter where they’re traveling to. I decided to put together the ten most important things I’ve learned being in Switzerland the past two months…

  1. What to pack: When packing to travel, you will need a good waterproof jacket, good shoes, a few shirts, a couple pairs of pants/leggings, and an entire suitcase dedicated to socks and underwear. It is quite possible to go months on months on months in another country with two outfits as long as you have enough socks and underwear.   *Bras optional in Europe*

  2. You will lose weight without trying. The day-to-day lifestyle here is automatically healthier than in the States. For one, soda does exist but it’s crazy expensive and nobody drinks it anyway so you can nix that out of your diet right off the bat.  Along with fast food; also basically doesn’t exist. Then there’s the walking. Back home I can drive anywhere I need to go and park relatively close to wherever it is I’m going. Here, I have a ten to fifteen minute walk to the train station to get into town, then The Staircase to Heaven (397 wooden stairs) up to the school I work at, back down The Staircase to Heaven after school to catch the train, and a ten to fifteen minute walk home. That’s not counting the walking you would do to go get a coffee, go to church, meet a friend, go to a bar, get groceries, etc. So five to six days a week I’m getting at least an hour, if not two or three hours, of walking in. Oh and there’s the food. Besides the fact that the portion sizes are all but cut in half, there’s not near the amount of sugar in any given meal here as there is back home. Even the pasta and fruit has less sugar than any pasta or fruit I would buy in the States. Just eat all the croissants and enjoy it, man.

  3. Do NOT smile at every person you see walking down the street. YOU WILL LOOK INSANE. Americans are pretty much trained from birth to do this weird, strained, half-smile at everyone they pass while walking. If you tried to smile at every person you passed while walking in Europe, your face would fall off. And they would think you’re insane. Everyone walks everywhere here so ain’t nobody got time for that.

  4. Don’t try and look cool on the train. I cannot stress this enough. To get a mental picture, the train here is basically just like the subway in New York City. That standing space right when you walk onto the train should have a flashing neon sign above it that says “LOCALS ONLY” because if you are not used to the train, don’t pretend like you are used to the train. Pop a dadgum squat in a seat before you end up on your backside unintentionally.

  5. Attempt to pick up on cultural customs even if it feels silly or unnecessary. Every morning at the school I work at, the teachers (there are only six of us) sit around the kitchen table drinking coffee and discussing our plans for the day. As the students get to school, they come by and shake every single teacher’s hand and greet them individually. The first few weeks of this made me so uncomfortable, I’ll be honest. I didn’t know these people and it seemed so redundant and unnecessary. But shaking everyone’s hand is actually kind of awesome. It starts off your day with a very personal connection with every one of your students and coworkers. What’s even better is that when you leave work, it’s respectful to seak out the other teachers and give them a handshake and a personal goodbye before you go. Doing this led to so many conversations with coworkers that would not have happened otherwise.

  6. You are probably, most likely, definitely going to offend someone at some point (piggybacking No. 5). No matter how hard you may work to pick up on social and cultural cues, you’re still going to do something that seems super harmless to you and totally rude and disrespectful to someone else. I have a tendency to stick my tongue out to kids. Like a silly little “Hey, watchya lookin at” thing. So I do it to all my students here as well. I didn’t find out until after two months of sticking my tongue out at ELEMENTARY SCHOOL CHILDREN that it’s the equivalent of flipping someone off…I’m pretty sure I was so embarassed I cried.

  7. Try to be the (responsible) Yes Man. Attempt to say yes to everything offered to you even if you’re tired, hungry, not interested, whatever. The absolute coolest things that you experience in another country will happen when you don’t plan them at all. Like, say, visiting a church and accidentally keeping a musician from dropping their instrument when they trip so they end up inviting you to a concert that night and you get to see the Zurich Symphony Orchestra play Schumann in a church older than dinosaurs. Or something like that…

  8. Eat everything. Even if you’re not a very adventurous eater, do it. I decided after my third day here that I would try absolutely everything that was offered to me no matter what it looked or smelled like (which can be a sort of terrifying endeavor in Europe). Even if it’s a food I don’t like at home, I tried it any way. And now I’m super freakin obsessed with Racclette (which is primarily melted cheese and holy cow I absolutely abhore melted cheese in the States) and I have ingested the best croissant known to mankind.

  9. Accept that you are a tourist and you look like a tourist and everyone knows you are a tourist. You wear weird clothes no matter how much you think you fit in, you stare at the train map eons longer than everyone else, and you never pay using coins because you still have no clue what they all are and don’t want to risk looking stupider. Everyone knows, dude, accept the tourist lifestyle.

  10. Directly for exchange students: You will miss the ever living crap out of your host family. No matter how many times a day they say something that seems insulting but you gotta remind yourself it’s not to them; no matter how many times you rephrase a question and they still don’t understand what you’re saying; no matter how many times they probably get annoyed with all your questions they don’t understand and they feel like their space is being kinda sorta invaded…you will end up calling them your family and picking on their eleven year old son just like your own little brother and having talks about boys with your host mom and having irrelevant arguments with your host dad after he gives you awesome advice for your next job interview. They’re your family that you never expected to have so cherish the time you have. Eventually there will be an ocean between you and you can’t have forty-five minute, extremely serious discussions about what your Patronus would be or which Jedi you would choose in a fight.

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