How To Survive Studying Abroad

Dan Scotti

It’s about that time of year. There’s no denying it, from the last final you copied entirely off the kid at the next desk, to Jewish girls belting Mariah Carey Christmas songs: ’tis the season, the semester’s end, and by the looks of your Syracuse girlfriend’s Facebook status–“T-MINUS 3 WEEKS TILL BARCELONA!!!!!”

To quote the magnificent Coco Chanel, “Simplicity is the keynote of all true elegance”. As you can see from her $4,000 handbag, Coco didn’t always practice what she preached–nonetheless, this quote could double as a motto for study-abroad preparation.

When you’re traveling around Europe out of a backpack, you simply can’t pack all three turquoise T-shirts with the differently colored Polo stitchings, and your second favorite pair of Jordan’s? Forget about ‘em. Get ready to make due with what you have (and have the time of your life doing so).

It’s okay to be overwhelmed, but before you sign your soul over to the devil, so to speak, and surrender the entire packing process to Mom, here’s some tips to get you on track. Essentials only. (Oh please, relax, it’s an expression. I’m not calling anybody’s mom the devil.)

Vince Carter Retro Jersey

When you and the boys decide to hit Munich for a few cold ones–if you’re lucky enough, in time for Oktoberfest–what says “I’m ready to day-drink” better than rocking your hometown hero’s basketball jersey? Just as you’re about to pack away the new Carmelo Anthony threads you bought for Christmas, I urge you to think twice.

Simply put: YOU DO NOT WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW YOU’RE AN AMERICAN. Foreign people hate Americans to begin with; so after your fifth boot of Bräu, when you start to flap that big American mouth of yours, do you really want to attract the attention of an eager local pickpocket?

Do yourself a favor and buy yourself a Vince Carter throwback basketball jersey. On Toronto. And no, none of that Bosh shit. What better way to pay homage to one of the era’s most brilliant dunkers than to flaunt the fact that he wasn’t even playing in an American city? 3 words: “Air. Canada. Motherfuckers.” Better yet, “I’m. From. Canada.”

Pip’s Tips: Do yourself a favor and grab one of these jerseys here.

Red Wing Boots

One Christmas, long ago, my parents surprised me with the Timberland boots I so dearly desired. I can remember my Mom handing them over to me, but not before saying, “Son, you only need one pair of good boots in life”.

I’m not sure if she said this because it’s necessarily true… or it was just her idea of implying “I’m only buying you one pair of $200 boots”. Either way, the fact that this piece of advice has stuck with me, while “get good grades and don’t smoke pot” fell on deaf ears, should say something.

Frankly, as I grow more and more distant from that magical Christmas and my rap-conscious twelve-year-old self, the mystique of Biggie’s “black Timbs” has dwindled considerably. Today, it seems like every rebellious high school kid has a pair of Timberlands to compliment the prescription drugs in his pocket that he sells to hipster-Asians in the cafeteria. Is this really the style you want to showcase when you’re in Paris?

As you’re holding the hand of the mademoiselle you just met outside the Louvre, and you really want to knock this one out of the park, make sure your footwear has your back. Having to scale the weathered steps of the Eiffel Tower for a night cap, after an abundance of Cognac and lies about the first 20 years of your life, can be a real bitch.

Help yourself out and secure a pair of Red Wing boots. Great quality, especially for climbing up stairs…in vogue as fuck, especially to help you get downstairs. Catch my drift?

Pip’s Tips: Get yourself a classy pair of Red Wing Boots.

Giant Vintage

If I had a nickel for every time someone told me I look like the awkward, white, Long Island, soul mate of Will “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”, well… I wouldn’t have that many nickels. But that’s not the point. The point is, titles, such as that, are the ones I strive for. Why? Because retro shit is fucking dope.

Whether it’s a pair of OG Jordan sneakers (the VII’s were perfected in ’92), a 1969 Dodge Charger (I think they did it best in ’69), or a sound-byte of Jerry Garcia from Woodstock (the perfect amount of drug abuse)– the nostalgic is infallible. Vintage shades are no exception. Personally, I am constantly struggling with a Cartier addiction. Thankfully, at $1,000 per frame, this addiction is pretty under control at the moment.

Cutting out the foreplay: traveling and drinking don’t result in safe trips for sunglasses. Add in the foreign woman you’re trying to impress, while also paying extra attention for any words you can actually understand, and your shades all but seal their own fate.

If I had a nickel for every pair of Ray Ban wayfarers I’ve lost at college tailgates over the years, I could probably afford my own pair of vintage Cartier’s. Giantvintage allows you to get your “fix” of a wide variety of vintage frames, while keeping your wallet fatted enough to get your “fix” of everything else.

Pip’s Tips: http://www.giantvintage.com

NBA League Pass

As you’re standing at the airport gate, duffel bag in each hand, it’s hard not to get sentimental about leaving the nation you’ve lived and loved in for the past 20 years. Gone are the days of waking up, getting in your car, and picking up your friend for a bagel. Cars will soon be vespas – and bagels, well, bagels may soon be crepes.

Ultimately, along with the once in a lifetime experience that studying abroad provides, you’re bound to go without some things you love. For me, a semester without my New York Knicks was not an option.

For a flat rate of $54.99 (for mobile capabilities) or $189 (TV/broadband/mobile), NBA League Pass supplies access to all the games your little basketball heart could desire, while galavanting around Europe. And what’s best? The time difference between Europe and America is a beautiful thing.

An 8:00 PM start-time at the Garden (I hope I don’t need to distinguish which Garden… that’s directed at you, Bostonians) will tip roughly 2:00 AM in Western Europe, right around your night’s end. So getting rejected and having that drink poured all over you at the bar suddenly won’t feel so bad knowing that the lonely walk back to your apartment might end with a 40 point explosion from Kevin Durant–especially when your fantasy playoffs heat up.

Yeah, and to the unconquered crowd that doesn’t plan on getting rejected or having drinks poured on them–get creative. There’s no reason you can’t mix woman and basketball, you just gotta think outside the box, literally. A piece or two of duct tape should be more than adequate in supporting your iPad to the ceiling above your bed. So yeah, maybe you should go for those broadband capabilities.

Pip’s Tips: Get it here. 

Cracked iPhone

As an active gambler, it seems that I almost instinctively weigh out the odds of certain scenarios before they happen. Sociology midterm tomorrow morning? There’s a 55% chance I end up getting stoned to watch season one of the Sopranos in its entirety.

First dinner date with my girlfriend and her parents? 35% chance that I make a misogynistic joke to get a rise out of her dad, or at the very least make sure her mom is paying attention to something else besides whose mom is screwing the insider-trading gentleman sitting at the table across from us.

A semester abroad in Florence? 100% chance your iPhone 5 isn’t gonna be around for the return voyage. That one’s fairly easy to predict.

In reality, you’re simply trying to manage too many things while studying abroad to even entertain the notion of not losing your phone. When you have your passport, 500 euro, and that index card with the “50 useful phrases translated into Italian” in your denim pockets–your iPhone suddenly becomes the least important thing your carrying. Anticipate this, and come prepared.

Coincidentally, in the home of the Renaissance, that cracked iPhone 4 laying on the bottom of your sock draw can also suddenly find rebirth. Why risk losing that iPhone 5 your dad just bought you, when you have a European burn phone in your other pocket.

Chances are, your iPhone will become your iFacebook/iTwitter/iInstagram, whenever you can pick up a wifi signal. Does it really matter if the screen has a crack or two…or fifty? I’ll answer this for you, no.

Pip’s Tips: If you don’t have a cracked iPhone, ask somebody. They’re everywhere.

Virtual Private Networks

Bad days are inevitable. Boredom, likewise. Restless nights…no different. Thankfully, as the most intelligent form of life, we as humans have found a formula to solve these problems. Grab the bottle of NyQuil, tilt the bottle of Pinot Noir, and watch Family Guy on Netflix till you wake up the next morning.

This probably isn’t foreign to any college students involved in Greek life…except maybe swap NyQuil with Ambien, Pinot Noir with a Pinot Grigio, and Family Guy with, I don’t know, maybe The Office?

Well here’s a rude awakening. Netflix won’t work overseas. Yeah, I know, insert “Can’t watch” BBM emoticon, literally. That being said, I remind you–we are humans, and subsequently, we find ways to solve these problems.

Virtual Private Networks, or VPNs, provide users with a US IP address regardless of your computer’s actual location. This is computer geek slang for, “yes, you can still watch That 70’s Show in the back of your wine and cheese pairing class”. In my humble opinion, hidemyass.com is the best look for a secure VPN provider.

Pricing starts at $6.55 a month, it’ll come to less then $30 over the course of your abroad voyage. That will pay itself off with one episode of South Park–after dealing with your fair share of arrogant Europeans, there’s no better cure for your homesickness than a slice of homegrown American arrogance, in crude cartoon form.

Pip’s Tips: Get it here. 

Dan Scotti