20 lessons from my time in Europe
Concerning work, life and everything in between
After three months in Berlin and two weeks split between Paris and London, my time in Europe has officially come to a close. There was the good (new friends, traveling, taking in a new country, and doner kebabs). There was the bad (moving apartments three times. Getting my bank hacked. Twice. Health issues). And there was the lessons learned over my time.
This is my attempt to sum up my experience into little nuggets that I can look back on and maybe you can find something useful in it too.
1. Do your homework before traveling to a new country
Make sure you’ve completed all the necessary paper work, have some of the local currency (learn that your country doesn’t believe in the use of debit/credit cards. Eg Germany), have some idea of the place you’re staying, check up on your health insurance and meds, find out if you have friends of friends who can show you around, learn some basic phrases, buy a SIM asap, etc etc.
There is nothing worse than going to a country (especially one where you don’t understand the language) and being lost in translation, not having access to what you need, and being completely victim to your situation.
2. Weather matters
I learned that I hate the winter mostly because of the short days. And the cold. Mostly the cold. But seasonal depression is real. Seeing the sun go down at 4.30pm everyday killed my mood. It made me not want to go out and explore the city which in turn added to my isolation in a foreign country.
Be aware of the time of year you’re going somewhere.
If I went to Berlin during the summer (which I hear is beautiful), I’m 100% convinced my experience would’ve been different.
3. When you start work, be sure to set your expectations and goals with your manager ASAP
Establishing a bench mark that you have to live up to and goals you need to accomplish helps you focus at work and understand what you’re working towards. Additionally, it helps your manager keep you on track.
I was stuck in the situation where I didn’t know what was expected of me and as a result, there was the impression that I wasn’t working hard enough. After I had an expectations meeting, my manager and I were on the same page and I was able to exceed what was expected of me.
4. You’re going to feel lonely sometimes
The “real world” was a far cry from my college where I always knew at least someone when I walked down the streets. I made friends easily because college is an environment that is set up to make friends. The real world doesn’t quite function like that.
I didn’t really connect with my co-workers since we didn’t have much in common (they preferred clubs and beer. I liked my tap water, jazz shows and comedy clubs). Language was a barrier as well. And any meet-ups I wanted to go to were finished before I even got out of work.
That’s not to say I couldn’t have done something about this. I could’ve. But even if I made a real active effort, there will still be moments of loneliness.
That’s okay. These are good times to spend with yourself.
And your friends will remind you that you may feel lonely but you’re never alone :)
5. Learn to cook. It saves money!
Unless you shop at whole foods like me haha. But even then, I still saved money cooking my own food versus eating out everyday. Plus, cooking can be fun too! I watched a lot of Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey videos to learn the basics. And then it was up to my imagination, Tasty videos (and how much chili powder I wanted to put on everything).
6. Cyber threats are REAL
Take it from someone who got her bank hacked twice. As a result, I got really into learning about cyber security to protect my own ass. Here’s a few tips I’ve gathered.
- Use a password manager like 1password if you use one password with a few variations here and there. This will dramatically improve your security.
- When possible, get 2-factor authentication on EVERYTHING. Yes I get it can be a headache. You know what’s also a headache? Calling your bank in America from Germany at 2am to try and get your bank account back. This website is a great place to see what services offer it.
- Avoid public wifi, especially if you’re browsing websites with your personal information on it. You’re opening yourself up to be hacked.
- Only use secured websites which are indicated by https:// and a locked padlock in the URL. Especially when inputting personal information.
- Use a VPN when on suspicious websites if you have to use it (or that’s where your stream for a Tennis match is hehe).
- Learn what phishing emails look like. Don’t click on the links. Report them. Here’s a link to get you started on what phishing looks like.
- Macs have a feature called “fire vault” which protects your hard drive from being hacked. Check it out by spot lighting fire vault.
- Periodically check important accounts to find irregularities.
- Find your security nerd friend and ask them for more advice.
- Get your phone and laptop scanned for malware just to be sure nobody is creeping on you. Malwarebytes is good scanner for laptops!
7. Develop good spending habits. Aka don’t spend money you don’t have
Fortunately I don’t have a credit card so can’t really go into debt there. But I had to let go of a lot of my previous spending habits (eg. shopping at Forever 21 for fun. Buying a lush mask every other week) because it wasn’t financially feasible for me. I saved where I could.
Avoiding these stores was the easiest way not to be tempted. Also looking at my bank account and seeing I much preferred food over new boots also helped. But jokes aside, now is a really good time to become financially responsible.
8. Start investing your money NOW!
Sitting money is lost money. Because of inflation, if you’re not investing your money, the value goes down so you’re actually losing money! I recommend opening up investment accounts with Wealthfront or Ellevest (which is specifically designed for females).
Just create an account, get a portfolio analysis, deposit the money, set up your re-occurring deposits if you want any, and forget about it. Your money will start growing.
The sooner you start investing, the better.
Caveat. If you want to take money out of your investment accounts, remember it can take around 6 business days. I tell you this because I got stuck in situations where my bank account was low in funds and waiting 6 business days for a transfer meant all I could afford to eat was €0.50 instant noodles (really tasty ones though) for 10 days.
9. Prepare for A LOT of unexpected events. Nothing in life ever goes to plan
Have a rainy day account or a credit card for emergencies (I was fortunate to have enough cash to support myself when my only bank account went down). That covers the financial aspects. But you’re also going to get a mental ass kicking. In those moments, lean on your friends and loved ones. They will help a lot.
Let yourself cry it out if it gets really bad. Bitch, moan, get it out of your system. Then suck it up and get through it. I used to tell myself I have no choice but to get through this shit so I might as well do it with a smile. That kept me in decently good spirits when times were tough.
10. Check in with yourself. Remember that you can always change your reality
Periodically, I would look at what I was doing and see if I was happy. If I wasn’t, I’d try to see if I could find the root cause and if I had the power to change it. Sometimes this was as simple as talking to my boss. Sometimes it was going out somewhere new. Sometimes, it was watching a netflix marathon for 12 hours.
Do what you need to do to get yourself through. And remember, you can always change a shitty situation.
11. Have fun and enjoy yourself
Regardless of all the hardship, I had to realize how fortunate and privileged I was to be able to do the things I was doing. So when the sun was shining, I’d go out. I’d eat at my favorite cafes. I’d go to my favorite comedy shows. Sometimes you really just have to laugh and enjoy yourself while the world around you is imploding. Being sad all the time didn’t do me any good.
12. Learn the rules and stand your ground if you’re in the right
A couple personal situations come to mind with this. The first was an Airbnb host trying to make me cancel my reservation and incur a €100 fee even though he was the one at fault. I read up on Airbnb’s policies for such matters, gave their customer service a call and got my reservation cancelled without incurring a fee because I was in the right.
The second was staying in Europe for 90 days exactly (As a US citizen, you can stay in Europe within the Schengen area for 90 non-consecutive days within a 180 day period). Because of my trip to Bangladesh in between my stay in Europe, I was able to squeeze a trip in to Paris. Let’s just say the UK border patrol in Paris was not happy (they literally said they were not happy I used up all 90 days of my allowance). Regardless of them being happy or not, I was in my right to do so and they had to let me go because I did nothing wrong.
In both these situations, because I knew the rules and policies, I was able to stand my ground.
13. Listen to your parents (some of the time)
I’m still pretty stubborn and don’t always agree with my parents. But I do know they have my best interest in mind, have seen more of the world and life, and are just trying to help. I tell them they have to let me make my own mistakes (and I’ve made plenty). But, I do think some of the bigger heartaches could’ve been avoided if I chose to consult my parents rather than tell them.
This is with a grain of salt though. Everyone’s parents are different. Mine are incredibly supportive, more liberal and progressive than most (can’t imagine any other South Asian parents letting their only daughter travel the world and live alone) and I love them to bits for letting me do what I want. They’re the type I can consult with instead of tell. That won’t be the case for everyone.
To those, I say be aware of the path you’re choosing. Be aware of the path your parents want. If you are aware there will be dissonance and accept it, the disagreements will bother you less because you already knew your parents’ likely response beforehand.
14. Nothing you learn in college really helps in the “life” aspect of life
When I set out for my gap year, I just thought I’d be traveling the world and working at some cool startups. What’s happened instead is I got a big dose of life.
From learning how to deal with doctors, balancing my spending habits, paper work, managing people that I interact with daily, keeping myself alive and fed, taxes (still don’t know how do that), navigating foreign countries, managing my emotions, mental and physical health by myself…this is stuff I never learned at Brown. But it’s what I’ve spent the majority of my gap year doing.
15. Step outside your comfort zone
Whether this is traveling to a new country if feasible, going to an event you normally wouldn’t attend, trying out a new activity, whatever it is. The more you step outside of it, the more it will become part of your comfort zone. And as your comfort zone expands, you’ll find yourself trying out and exceeding in greater tasks and opportunities.
16. Just because you’re physically far away doesn’t mean you can’t invest into your relationships
I’ve developed incredibly healthy friendships where I can go a few months without talking to people but our friendship will still hold strong. However, this doesn’t mean I haven’t invested into my friendships.
Every single one of my friends know that no matter how far away I am, they can always text or call me and I’d help out within a second. And this was reciprocated with all of my friends.
17. Find some sort of activity to keep you sane
If it’s not obvious, writing is how I process all the crazy shit that happens in my life. It is my sanity check. Maybe it’s meditation for you. Yoga. Exercise. Whatever it is. Finding something that lets you disconnect helps you keep yourself in check.
18. Communication is key
Being able to communicate will help you in so many aspects of life. From learning how to talk to your manager about problems you’re having, figuring out how to ask for help from different types of people, maintaining long distance relationships, to talking to people when you don’t have a common foundation.
I view it as the bridge that can bring two disparate points together.
It’s something you can learn. And the best way is to just start doing it and learning from your mistakes. See how you communicate with others. Observe yourself. Ask for feedback. This is how you can improve.
19. Be kind. You’d be amazed what it can get you
I’m naturally a nice person (to the point where it can get me more attention than I want). However, being kind has had its benefits. I’ve gotten away with a few overweight bags . A misspelled name on a ticket. Convinced my doctor to come during his off day to give me my antibiotic prescription (he specifically told me it was only because I was nice, so he was nice).
Being kind and smiling doesn’t hurt anyone. So why not just do it. The perks are a fun byproduct. But I believe we should all strive to be kind human beings to one another.
20. Be open
When you open yourself up, be it to friendship, new activities, love, you give yourself the opportunity to experience something great. You allow yourself to experience life at its highest highs and lowest lows. You allow individuals who you never expected to meet, change your world. You allow yourself to feel the army of support and love that exists in your life.
And when you become open to all the exterior forces, you realize you can also become more open with yourself.
Take a moment to be open with yourself when you can. Talk to yourself about your dreams, wishes, goals, fears, doubts, your crushes, your heartbreaks, anything and everything. It’s the moments when you’re open with yourself that you can really start to make some amazing break throughs.
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