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Europe According to Emma is a weekly column written by Emma Dell a University of Denver student currently studying abroad in Berlin, Germany.


For most college kids jetting off to study abroad it’s the first time they’ve ever lived in a country that wasn’t America (and no, your month long vacation to Cabo doesn’t count as “living there”). And upon leaving nice, spacious America where everything functions properly and the people speak your language there are always a few little bumps on the road to the best experience of your life.

Some of them everyone expects: you won’t be able to watch Netflix, you’ll gain 30 pounds, and your elbows will constantly be covered in bruises from banging them on the walls of your ridiculously tiny shower.

But those warnings are amateur hour.

So here’s a list of the real things to prepare yourself for, from a true expert who has only been here for three weeks and still hasn’t figured most of this stuff out.

1. Water is your unpredictable enemy

If anyone tries to tell you that water pressure in Europe is all calm and gentle, so turning your faucets on to full is no problem, do not listen. Close your little earholes and walk away from this dirty, dirty lie.

Because not only is there a good chance that the water pressure reaches what we call “full” when the handle is only one-third of the way up, it’s also entirely possible that the faucet will be slightly broken and start spraying water whatever direction it wants to when it gets overstimulated. Also highly probable is the fact that you will have no towels the first time you do this, meaning no bathmat.

Hope you like wet floors. And free hospital trips (thanks, Europe).

2. Flickering lights don’t always mean it’s The Twilight Zone

In the energy efficient nations of basically anywhere that’s not America, constant lighting is not a priority. Public areas will often have motion censored lights or lights on timers so that they don’t waste power… and so they can leave you in a flickering, terrifying darkness for a few seconds by yourself while they turn on.

Because what’s living in a foreign country without the slight occasional feeling that you’re going to die in a foreign country, right?

Those lights don’t hog all of the Supernatural-style demonic flickering to themselves though, don’t worry. They also share with the lights in your apartment (or wherever it is that you’re living, by yourself, in the momentarily possessed dark). Which leads to the next point…

3. There’s a difference between ‘Delayed’ and ‘Broken’

Hope you’re not too afraid of the demon-dark, because light bulbs abroad are not always aware of the expectations of those us from the land of instant gratification. Meaning they could take two, five, or thirty seconds to turn on after you flip the switch. Depending on how they’re feeling that day.

Which is a mentality they apparently share with the elevators, who take lots of personal days and don’t even bother to leave a note.

Those jerks just like to stop running whenever they please, and sit quietly giggling while you wait for five minutes before you realize it’s not coming to get you. Then when you’ve decided to just cut your losses and take the stairs one day, that will be the one day all week that the elevator will actually work.

On the plus side, you’ll have great calves from all the stairs (and will maybe only gain 25 pounds instead of 30).

4. “YOLO” Is Not An Appropriate Grocery Store Motto

Also assisting in the combat against the “study abroad thirty” is the good chance that most of the things you get home from the grocery store will not actually be eaten, unless you have a stomach of steel or an extremely open-minded palette.

If you’re the kind of shopper who just likes to look at pictures and grab things off the shelves, you should probably start reading up on some basic ingredients. Groceries abroad get pretty weird and you could end up with a tuna and pesto pizza or something equally scrumptious… not.

Even easy packaged meals require measurements, which are going to be in the metric system, and if you add too much water to mashed potatoes they will end up boiling onto your hand and it won’t feel nice. Not speaking from experience, of course.

I heard it from a friend?

5. Wi-Fi Is Wavelength Gold

Coming from a country that runs on constant internet coverage, this one’s the real kicker. The ability to use data is usually yanked from your feeble fingers the second you cross the border (unless you have a nice company like T-Mobile or pay for an international plan) and, unlike in the States, is not replaced with the ability to hop from wi-fi network to wi-fi network.

Instead, you could end up with a phone that can only tell time and a computer that’s good for typing Word documents only. It is a sad existence, it is a lonely existence, it is a European existence.

When you finally do find a restaurant or other public place that offers wi-fi, be prepared to say goodbye to your friends for however long the free access lasts. Because we are addicts, and apparently the rest of the world does not share our dependence.

Also included in the list is the chronic need to pee (cheap and accessible alcohol does that to you) and it’s paired chronic inability to find a bathroom (or the lack of change for which to pay for one), but that’s another issue for another day (except there’s really nothing more to say about it, so never mind).

They say going abroad will be the best time of your life, and three weeks in I can safely say that’s true thus far.

Even without wi-fi. And with a wet bathroom floor. At least the flickering lights haven’t gotten me yet.

Have you studied abroad?


photo via Emma Dell