Top 3 mistakes I made abroad

Every country has their own culture with their own customs.


SUMMARY: Catherine Cunningham ('22) has studied abroad in many countries across Europe. Through her travels, Cat collected plenty of helpful tips and tricks to navigate a new country as a tourist. She shares hand gestures one should avoid, appropriate clothing to wear, and more!

By Catherine Cunningham ('22)

18.pngNot Enough Research:
Traveling abroad for the first time can be uncomfortable and scary. Experiencing a new environment with little to no information can make a person feel unprepared. The importance of research allows travelers to understand different cultures, tricks into not getting scammed, and know which places to avoid. But it also allows travelers to find hidden gems. Here are some helpful and reliable sites I used for research before I traveled to Germany and Strasbourg, France.

Every country has its own culture with its own customs. What might be acceptable in one place, might not be acceptable in another. The first time I went abroad to the United Kingdom, and various places along the Rhine River, was over the summer during the season when it was consistently warm out. I packed clothes such as shorts and sleeveless tops.

However, I did not consider that some places I would visit might require a more conservative look. Many churches and cathedrals across Europe require individuals to cover their shoulders when inside as an act of respect. The same with hats for men – they must be removed. If you are struggling with picking the types of clothes that would be acceptable clothes to tour certain places, check out the articles listed below.

Tour guides and your program directors will always inform travelers to be aware of locals that prey on tourists. Here in the States, we do not think twice about putting our phones in our back pockets or walking around with a bag without a zipper. We seem more unaware of our surroundings. Learning ahead of time who and what to look out for while there is a great way to avoid unwanted encounters. Knowing this information ahead of time will also help you when deciding what to pack, and what to leave behind.

Packing is annoying. No matter how much I love to travel abroad, the aspect of having to sit down and pack is exhausting. Not because I do not have any good clothes to bring, but because I can never decide what exactly I want to bring, or what type of vibe I would be feeling that day. I always end up packing way more than I need, leaving little to no room for souvenirs or clothes I will buy while there - and do not think you won’t end up buying anything. I recommend starting by writing a list of what you will be needing while abroad.

Start with the essentials. It gives you an idea of what you’ll want to bring from home that might not be sold in the country you are studying in, and what you will be able to buy when you arrive. Pack smaller toiletries as it will allow for you to use it all up by the time of your departure, and you will not have to worry about bringing them home. This will also give you more room within your suitcase. When it comes to clothes, it is important to check the average temperature in the country you will be traveling to. This always gave me a gauge of what I should bring and what shouldn’t bring. Stick to clothes that can be layered – don’t bring bulkier clothes -they take up space and more than not you will not need it.

While I studied abroad in Scotland during the summer, I packed more for what spring weather would be like back in the States. I looked up the average temperature, and what exactly I would be doing while there, to help decide what I would need. Then again, we ended up in a heatwave with the average temperature being 21 to 25 degrees Celsius. But because I pack clothes that were easy for layering, it allowed me to compensate for the weather. My advice is the lighter the better. You never know what you’ll find while there, but it also gives you the ability to be more versatile with what you have.

cascade_images.pngThe backward peace signs:
Surprising, this mistake was in my top three. Nothing was more embarrassing than throwing up a backward peace sign and getting looks for it, just to find out it is equivalent to “flipping” someone off when you are in the States. As most are familiar with, the backward peace sign is used as both a greeting and a farewell amongst kids and young adults. We are so used to it that when we travel abroad, we don’t think anything of it and that it means something else. The majority of JMU students tend to travel across Europe. Being aware of gestures and hand signals is important.19.png I wouldn’t be surprised if this mistake has become a joke amongst the locals, as they probably witness it anytime they run into an American. Hand gestures in general should be considered when you research the country you will be traveling to. Positive gestures in the States could be negative in other countries. This goes back to researching before you arrive. It is better to know beforehand than get reprimanded once there.

Happy Traveling Dukes!

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Published: Friday, April 8, 2022

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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