Experiencing Europe and all of its charms is something many young graduates or those on a gap year dream of. But what’s better than traveling Europe? Living there of course! And we’ve found out that it’s actually easier than you think to do just that.

Choosing to study abroad on an exchange or working abroad in an internship or on a working holiday visa are two very viable options for completely immersing yourself within European culture. What’s better, once you’re living there you have all of the continent on your doorstep to explore.

But before you jump in the deep end and decide to take up that study or job opportunity in Europe there’s a few vital things you should know.

We chatted with experts to answer your most burning questions about living in Europe. There’ll be nothing stopping you booking in that year of work or travel in Europe after reading!

What’s an important thing people often overlook when planning to study or work abroad?

While many people speak English all over the world, we always suggest learning a bit of the local language before you travel anywhere.

It is important that you do not rely on English and expect the locals to cater to you. We have found that even the smallest effort in learning the local language will go a very long way with the locals, and you never know when you will need to use your newfound language skills.

Additionally, many EU countries can be just as expensive as living in North America, so make sure you’re conscious of your budget! On the other hand, there are some countries (Portugal, Slovenia, Poland, etc.) where your money will go a long way – but be prepared to make a budget for yourself regardless!
Allison Sobol & Maxine Secskas – CIEE Teach Abroad

Passport/visa issues – First things first, make sure your passport is valid. Some countries also require your passport to be valid for a substantial amount of time even after you’ve left their country.

For example, if you are going to be abroad from January to April and your passport expires in May of that same year, you may need a new passport.

Every country is different so make sure you look into passport and visa requirements beforehand to give you ample time to plan or prepare accordingly.
Ryan Cruz – Adelante Abroad

Related to visas… you may also need to make sure you have enough blank pages in your passport for your visas.

In most cases the requirement is that it must be valid at least 6 months after you intend to leave (at the end of your study or work commitment).

Additionally, immigration officials may ask you to provide proof that you have enough money to sustain yourself in the country for a period of time. All of these details can often be overlooked, or at least the amount of lead time required to plan ahead!
Kayla Patterson – GoAbroad

Zoom in to learn as much as you can about your host town before planning trips to neighboring countries. Most people take time to learn things like what the weather will be like, unique cultural points, how to get around and what things cost.

However, far fewer people look very deeply into the history or current events of the place they are planning to visit.

Taking time to read recent articles and going back a few decades or more by reading even one good piece of historical literature can lay an important foundation for your appreciation of the place when you finally arrive.
James Bridge – InterExchange

The study abroad program’s entry requirements – these vary widely between the different European countries and the various universities.

That is why it is important for you to check the information for the specific university you want to apply at before you submit your documents…If you have any questions, the admissions department of the university is the place that will answer your specific questions…Application processes for your study abroad in Europe requires certain documentation including passport photos, CV, a statement of purpose, academic references, secondary education certificates, language tests result, admissions test results.
Jivko Pentchov – Study Abroad Europe

Usually people are so excited to go abroad, they don’t think about the possibility of being affected by culture shock once they arrive. Be prepared that culture shock can happen to anyone!
Additionally, many people are on vacation for most of August, late December, and early January, which means that it will be harder to apply for internships or begin working during these times. Many mom-and-pop stores are closed then and traveling tends to be more expensive as well.
Maggie Appel-Schumacher & Ronda Rutherford – Cultural Vistas

There are so many different destinations and experiences available, and your interests and budget can really play a key role in where you go.

Some locations, for example London and Paris, can be double the price of other cities in the continent in terms of accommodation, transport and going out.

Also are you open to the idea of learning a new language? You might be best sticking to the UK and Ireland if you are not keen for a full-on cultural immersion. Also don’t be put off visiting countries which don’t sound as exotic as well established destinations like France, Italy and the UK.

There are lots of places which can provide an authentic experience for We’re putting together the ultimate guide based on your opinions!!
Paul Edwards – One World 365

What’s the best way to balance work and study with fun and travel?

Prioritize! While it is important to keep in mind the reason you are abroad (working, studying, teaching), make a schedule for yourself so you can do what makes you happy.

If you want to take a weekend trip but have some work that is due around the same time, make a plan for yourself. Consider staying in an extra night or two to complete the work so you can enjoy your weekend away!

Also, don’t be too shy to join in on any activity that locals invite you to, even if you are feeling a little nervous. These impromptu adventures with foreign friends can often be the most memorable and fun!
Allison Sobol & Maxine Secskas – CIEE Teach Abroad

With travel, if there is a will there’s a way. At some point, in your abroad experience, there WILL be a weekend or a window of a few days that you will have free.

Don’t hesitate and take advantage of any and every break in your schedule to book a weekend getaway whether it’s in-country or inter-country.

There will always be some sort of bus, train, or airfare deal you’ll be able to take advantage of if you do enough research.
Ryan Cruz – Adelante Abroad

One of the best things about Europe is that it’s so easy to get from country to country — plus there are plenty of ways to do it on a budget.

From budget flights and overnight trains to hostels and street vendors, you’ll be surprised how cheap it can be to spend a weekend in Paris or Berlin. Don’t be afraid to go solo either!
Kayla Patterson – GoAbroad

The study abroad programs in Europe require the students to have International Student Cards, which not only reveal your student status but also give you access to numerous discounts and thus the fun is guaranteed.

Among the best known are ISIC Student and ISE Student, Youth Identity Card and Teacher Identity Card, both with generous discounts at hotels and hostels, transport services, vehicle rentals, places of interest and even some European airlines services.

The airfare discounts available for students are really tempting and the round trip ticket to Europe comes at a more than reasonable price.
Jivko Pentchov – Study Abroad Europe

Most schools and jobs in Europe provide a reasonable amount of vacation time, so you should have plenty of time to do some traveling on long weekends. There are many budget airlines (Ryanair, Germanwings), train deals or discount passes, and cheap bus lines, so you can easily find the best balance for your timeline and budget.

It’s helpful to plan your travel in advance and invite a friend or two to join! People can also engage with their local community by joining meetups, university clubs or sports clubs and taking time to really learn about their local environment by foot, bike or tour bus.

Researching blogs written about a city or area you are visiting is a good way to learn about some not-so-popular tourist attractions and activities!
Maggie Appel-Schumacher & Ronda Rutherford – Cultural Vistas

What’s something North Americans should take into consideration when embarking on a work or study abroad experience in Europe?

Don’t expect the locals to cater to you. Are you expected to know everything about every country you visit? Absolutely not. However, when you are in another country, you should (and want to) adapt to the culture you are so lucky to see. Remember, it is not the local’s responsibility to adapt their daily life to make you comfortable,

However, when you are in another country, you should (and want to) adapt to the culture you are so lucky to see. Remember, it is not the local’s responsibility to adapt their daily life to make you comfortable, it is your responsibility to understand enough to make yourself acclimate to the culture you’re visiting or living in…If you want to fit in with the locals before you get overseas, do some research on some pop culture in your host country – it will give you some talking points as soon as you get there!

If you want to fit in with the locals before you get overseas, do some research on some pop culture in your host country – it will give you some talking points as soon as you get there!
Allison Sobol & Maxine Secskas – CIEE Teach Abroad

It’s not uncommon for Europeans to know more about U.S. current events than U.S. citizens might know about current happenings in Europe. This may be in part due to mainstream media we’re exposed to in the States and could also just be because many Europeans are a bit more internationally minded. Of course, this isn’t always true, nor does it have to be a negative thing, but

Of course, this isn’t always true, nor does it have to be a negative thing, but prepare to field questions and comments about current events in the U.S. and take the time to learn about current happenings in your host destination.
James Bridge – InterExchange

Keep an open mind culturally and even within your work placement. There are certain amenities and things we are used to as North Americans that are just different or unavailable in Europe. Get used to this and be open to how our cultures differ. At work placements, especially if it is an internship, people have this thought they will be given VIP projects and immense visibility into the company. Truthfully, it is rare even in domestic internships that you will be entrusted with workloads like this as an intern. Soak up as much information as you can, make as many connections as you can, and when you do get to contribute make sure to make notes and quantify it for your resume.

Get used to this and be open to how our cultures differ. At work placements, especially if it is an internship, people have this thought they will be given VIP projects and immense visibility into the company. Truthfully, it is rare even in domestic internships that you will be entrusted with workloads like this as an intern. Soak up as much information as you can, make as many connections as you can, and when you do get to contribute make sure to make notes and quantify it for your resume.

Truthfully, it is rare even in domestic internships that you will be entrusted with workloads like this as an intern. Soak up as much information as you can, make as many connections as you can, and when you do get to contribute make sure to make notes and quantify it for your resume.

Soak up as much information as you can, make as many connections as you can, and when you do get to contribute make sure to make notes and quantify it for your resume.
Ryan Cruz – Adelante Abroad

I would say a primary consideration for anyone traveling abroad is to learn about the culture(s) of the countries you’re visiting…Research common practices around attire and dining — many countries have cultural codes when it comes to how you eat or even the type of shoes you wear.

Research common practices around attire and dining — many countries have cultural codes when it comes to how you eat or even the type of shoes you wear.

You’ll also want to be sure that you’re well versed in how to stay safe — make sure you know the emergency numbers in the city you’re visiting, areas to stay away from, common “tourist traps”, and where the nearest hospital or medical clinic is.
Kayla Patterson – GoAbroad

European work culture varies greatly from the American work culture. Work-life balance is valued and appreciated in many European work environments; as you are adjusting to the new environment, be mindful of your school and office culture. It is also

It is also important to be mindful of how North Americans are viewed in terms of cultural differences and political/economical views. Communication issues and cultural misunderstandings occur no matter how familiar you are with the local culture or how fluent you are in the local language—including when that language is English!

Communication issues and cultural misunderstandings occur no matter how familiar you are with the local culture or how fluent you are in the local language—including when that language is English!
Maggie Appel-Schumacher & Ronda Rutherford – Cultural Vistas

Kosala Bandara - St Johns College, Cambridge University

Should I work or study abroad? Is one better than the other?

They are both amazing opportunities! We think that any chance you have to live abroad as opposed to travel abroad is worthwhile. When studying your biggest responsibility is to yourself, so you have a bit more freedom to make your own decisions. When you are

When you are working abroad, you not only have a responsibility to yourself, but also to your colleagues or students.

You become much more integrated into the local culture, which could make it a more immersive experience. Why not get the best of both worlds and study then work abroad or vice-versa!

Why not get the best of both worlds and study then work abroad or vice-versa!
Allison Sobol & Maxine Secskas – CIEE Teach Abroad

A study abroad experience is far more curated and streamlined. You’re in school in a university setting, with a set schedule, usually with students from North America who are in the same boat. There are also planned excursions with a group, typically.

Work/internship programs are much more independent where the emphasis is gaining career experience as well as getting that experience of living on your own in a big city/different country.

It’s for the individual who is much more independent and likely has had some travel experience before. With an intern/work abroad program, you have that unique opportunity to make your experience your own.
Ryan Cruz – Adelante Abroad

In some cases it might be easier to land a more career-specific internship than a job in another country. Then again, on working holiday visa programs travelers often take on seasonal jobs (hospitality, farm work, office temping, etc.) unrelated to their field of interest, only to realize they are picking up skills that end up helping them in their careers.
James Bridge – InterExchange

We’re all about meaningful travel experiences, so whether it’s work or study or something else, the quality of your experience depends on you! Regardless of whether you’re working or studying, the experiences you have, the things you’ll learn, and the

Regardless of whether you’re working or studying, the experiences you have, the things you’ll learn, and the effect it has on your life depend on how you drive your experience. For best results, immerse yourself in the culture — get off the beaten track, explore, talk to locals, make new friends, and try to disconnect from home!
Kayla Patterson – GoAbroad

The overall experience of working in a different country is absolutely exciting and cool. The jobs vary depending on the location, but working abroad always means living the culture and experiencing the country as a local, and last but not least – it looks perfect on your CV.

In some cases, the student visa allows you to work, though in certain European countries there are restrictions on the amount of paid work that can be done during the studies with 20-hour limit per week during the term and full-time work during the holidays.

Studying abroad without worrying about the funds is even cooler and is said to be among the greatest life experiences that a student can enjoy.

Studying in Europe means access to a different teaching style, different point of view, different language which you can learn.
Jivko Pentchov – Study Abroad Europe

Though both experiences have their own unique benefits, both are entirely different, especially in how you fit into the local community. At schools, it can be hard finding local friends initially, but there will be many opportunities to get to know other students through class and extracurricular activities.

When you work abroad, you usually work directly with your local community on a daily basis, but you may not have colleagues your age, and it takes more effort to find ways to make friends outside of work.

Neither type of experience is inherently better—it just depends on what you hope to gain from your time abroad and how you hope to engage with the local culture.
Maggie Appel-Schumacher & Ronda Rutherford – Cultural Vistas

You then you will need to research all options thoroughly before making a decision. Whether to choose to work or study in Europe really comes down to personal preference, possibly you might be looking to experience learning in a different country and seeing how it compares to North American colleges, or if you would like to earn money to fund travels around Europe then a working vacation might be the best choice.
Paul Edwards – One World 365

Any last tips or pieces of advice to share?

Take the word “no” out of your vocabulary (for the most part)! Isn’t stepping outside your comfort zone and trying new things what traveling abroad is about? You won’t do either of these things if you say no to opportunities.

Unless the offer at hand is dangerous, illegal, or not in your best interest, definitely say yes and do it. Also – don’t stick to your plan. Following a pre-planned agenda is boring!

Having a plan is not a bad thing, but be prepared and on the lookout to stray from it. If you see a cool alley, building, café – throw your schedule away and check it out. The best part about traveling is bumping into things you didn’t even know existed. Embrace it!
Allison Sobol & Maxine Secskas – CIEE Teach Abroad

If you have the opportunity to take a study or intern abroad trip, DO IT. Usually, people are lacking time and money to do a program like this. Even if you only have one of these things, do everything in your power to make it happen. If you have the money for it, find a way to make time and if you have the time, find a way to get the money.

There are so many apps and sites there to raise money it is definitely possible in this day and age. Even if you have both the time and money, but aren’t too keen on going, force yourself to. Get out of your comfort zone, your older self will thank you for it later.
Ryan Cruz – Adelante Abroad

When it comes to transportation, Europe has it down, but it can be slightly different in each country. For example, the subway/metro in Berlin has no turnstiles — you have to buy and scan your own ticket or be subject to a heavy fine if one of their undercover ticket checkers catches you empty handed.

Be sure to become familiar with rules around transportation before you go! Download a map from online or get an app on your smartphone that includes travel information in your native language.
Kayla Patterson – GoAbroad

Check if you are fit to study/work abroad – ask yourself if you are interested in other cultures and if you are happy to be away from your friends and family for a while.

Remember that studying abroad is a wonderful way to get life experience and to gain confidence.
Jivko Pentchov – Study Abroad Europe

In the Information Age we often forget that small interactions with locals are part of what makes traveling adventurous. Even short conversations (like asking a store owner for advice) create anecdotes and memories that help tie our experience together. You can’t get this from reading online forums, so ask locals.
James Bridge – InterExchange

We hope this answers all of those niggling questions and calms those anxious nerves about studying or working in Europe. We understand moving abroad is a bold move, but remember it’s bold moves in life that are the most rewarding. Live it and enjoy!

 

Featured image: St Johns College, Cambridge University by Kosala Bandara, CC BY 2.0

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