When I decided to spend the fall semester of my junior year abroad, I soon discovered that this type of travel was different from anything I’d done before. This wasn’t a long weekend in a different city or even a week in another country, this was four months in France. I wanted to do everything, see everything…but I didn’t know where to start! Here are a few things I learned about what’s different when you’re actually living someplace, not just visiting.
Ask for advice
From everyone: anyone you know who’s been there, and might have an opinion. Not everyone will have the same taste you do, but you have more time to try each person’s must-see thing, and you might be surprised. I never would have thought I would have enjoyed the Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature (the Museum of Hunting and Nature) in Paris, but I went on a friend’s recommendation and found it fascinating.
Meet the locals
Get to know some of them, at least a little! If you’re staying for an extended time, these are the connections that will really teach you something about a country, and with a little luck they’ll last. I found it especially interesting to meet people who had been to America or interacted with a lot of Americans. They had some fascinating insights into cultural differences, from education to politics to conversation.
Take care of yourself
It’s all very well to spend one weekend getting four hours of sleep, walking six miles a day and cramming in everything you possibly can. But if you try to do this for an extended period of time you’ll probably make yourself exhausted, maybe even sick, and you’ll stop enjoying this new and wonderful place. Take some time to smell the roses, metaphorically or literally.
Hit things in the off-season
Or off-hours or off-days. If it works with your schedule, hit up popular attractions in the winter or on a weekday or when it’s drizzling. You’ll miss the crazy crowds and might even get to see a different side of a famous place.
Become a regular
I now have a favorite restaurant in Paris, Le Bouillon Chartier. Not only does this make me feel unbearably sophisticated (and just a little pretentious), but it was a great feeling to be able to recommend the place to other people visiting and take some of my friends there. Mine was a reasonably-priced restaurant with authentic French food. I had another friend who got to know the barista at a local café. I also found a few favorite places—some touristy, some not—that I visited multiple times while I was there. They started to feel familiar even in a strange country, and they’re places I can revisit the next time I’m there.