Nathan Overlock is an official CAPA blogger for spring 2017, sharing his story in weekly posts on CAPA World. A professional writing and information design major at Cedarville University, he is studying abroad in Dublin this semester.
In his first post, Nathan shares seven steps for surviving the first week in your host city.
I pride myself on being adaptable. I enjoy finding my way around new places and figuring out how things work in different cities, like on my trip to Indianapolis last fall. Yet, when I stepped onto the street in the Dublin city center, my 45 pounds of luggage in tow, I felt lost, without any reference to help me adjust. I wished I’d had a guide to help me attune to living abroad. So I went ahead and made one!
Based on all my mistakes and the few things I got right, here are seven steps for surviving your first week abroad:
1. Travel smart
Planning ahead, shopping around, and booking the best flights for the cost is always important. But that’s not what I mean by “travel smart.” My first impression of Dublin, Ireland had a lot to do with how I felt and the energy I had once I landed. Luckily, I arrived early enough in Dublin to fight my way through the grumpy, sleep deprived, swollen-ankled dehydration that I put myself in. And luckily, my irritable stupor wasn't entirely out of place on an early Dublin morning. But some simple steps, like walking a few laps around the cabin on longer plane rides, drinking lots of water, and avoiding caffeine and heavy foods will help you arrive at your destination fresh and ready to go.
2. Don’t Waste the Journey
Don’t let all the excitement about your destination stop you from enjoying the time you spend getting there. Even if you don’t appreciate the constant stream of snacks, drinks and entertainment on transcontinental flights as much as I do, take the time to enjoy the layovers and everything you can see along the way. I had the happy accident of booking a flight over the Swiss Alps at sunrise, the most beautiful landmark you can see from 30,000 ft. on the way to my layover in Italy, a stop I’d managed to extend from 6 hours to 24 without adding a single dollar to my airfare. This allowed me to rove the Milan streets, stopping to enjoy the world’s best espresso and gelato without buying an extra plane ticket.
3. Orient yourself!
Every new city comes with a variety of different sensations and experiences, ranging from new sights and smells, to an entirely new language, time zone and way of life. While Gaelic is prevalent throughout the city on street signs and government buildings, its rarely spoken. Likewise, the 5-hour time distance between Ireland and the east coast of the US took a few days of adjusting to, but hardly invoked jet lag. Instead, the biggest adjustments for me were the little quirks and idiosyncrasies, like remembering which way to look when I crossed the streets (don’t worry, they had signs), and learning to interpret the Irish slang and idioms. The only way I learned how to act and what to do was by watching the people around me, and asking questions when I didn’t understand things
4. See the City
Even after four days of exploring the Dublin city center, I still find myself searching for maps and asking for directions. However, Dublin has a myriad of free walking tours led by entertaining hosts ranging from the informative and family-friendly to the hilariously vulgar. I happen to be a big proponent of hitting the streets and wandering until I find my way, but events like these tours are a great way to start learning your way around while taking in different sights and getting expert advice on how to spend your time in the city.
5. Meet the people
While events like walking tours are a great way to meet fellow travelers, you’d be missing out if you didn’t spend some time with the locals. When I say that Dublin has some of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet, I don’t just mean that they’re polite or have good etiquette. Sometimes that’s the case, and sometimes it’s not. However, they’re almost always genuine, and genuinely interested in talking and having a conversation. If you’re not sure where to start, try signing up to have enjoy a free coffee, pint or tea with a Dubliner through The Little Museum of Dublin’s wonderful City of a Thousand Welcomes program. My host, and older Irish gentleman named Joe, was a walking encyclopedia of Irish history and important Dublin sites, and gave me a map, booklet, and flyers for attractions throughout the city.
6. Have a Plan
I knew better than to board a plane to a foreign country knowing where I’d go once I landed; I set off with a list of addresses, a checklist of things I needed to do, and a short itinerary of some things I wanted to squeeze into my first few days. However, a little research and some time spent mapping out exactly how I was going to get from the airport to my hostel, and the places I wanted to visit from there would have saved me hours of wandering and countless euros. That said, take the time to determine which details are important. Have everything you need and think about what you’d like to do, but don’t plan your day so thoroughly that you miss the chance to be spontaneous when you notice that bookstore or bakery you wish you had the time to stop at, or meet new friends in the city who want to hang out.
7. Become a local
We’ve all had our chance to be tourists. Even if you’ve been to Europe, or left the US at all, you’ve spent that afternoon out enjoying the weather, taking pictures, and letting yourself take in the surroundings. Your first few days abroad are a great time to be a tourist. Those were the days I spent meandering around the Dublin streets and popping into little shops with my camera hanging around my neck, ready to capture anything that caught my interest. Don’t stop there. Set a routine, learn your neighborhood, find the best shops, pubs and restaurants, and make them your home. I still have a long way until I become a regular at any stores or coffee shops, or start to recognize people on the streets. And perhaps four months isn’t quite enough time for that. But I’m not ready to settle for being an observer in my new city; I’m determined to become a part of it.
Nathan's journey continues every Friday so stay tuned.