As I’m getting ready to go abroad and work as an au pair, I constantly think about the new German village that I will be living in. The excitement of finding that perfect café, the perfect running path, or to just take in the gorgeous scenery is enough to make me want to jet off right away.
Once you get into your new surroundings, it’s a bit overwhelming and sometimes you don’t know where to start. That’s what I’m here for—to give you some guidelines as to how to discover your new surroundings.
Map out your routes: I studied abroad in Salzburg, Austria for six months. It was one of the happiest times of my life so far. One of the first things I did was pick up a map of the city. Usually these maps tell you where the bus and train stops are and they also list suggestions of different activities to do in the surrounding area of where you are.
Take that map and put it to use. Walk around the city and take pictures. If you see a café or an organic grocery store you want to check out you’ll be able to remember where it is by making use of your camera. Another bonus: you’ll be making photo memories as you go along.
Check in with the local tourism office or town hall: Ask if there are any open markets taking place where you are. This is a great place to learn about local cuisine, plants, local customs and a great way to meet the local people. I learned about many interesting cafés, bars, restaurants and hangout spots for the local university students. Also ask at the office about museums, sports games or local plays and concerts. (I found out Mozart was born in Salzburg and I even got to see his birth house.)
Ask the resident experts—locals: If you are studying abroad and living in housing for the university, don’t be afraid to ask your neighbors for fun suggestions! While living in the Studentenheim (student living) in Salzburg, I got to know my neighbors and had many fun nights out with them.
One of the major things I stress is mingling with the locals. Don’t be afraid to ask people for directions or ask them where the best place to buy a plate of schnitzel is. You never know where you’ll make a friend.
Take a language course: Whether it’s at your university, a language school, or a town community center. Knowing the basic language of where you are makes everything feel less intense and opens up more opportunities to discover the local culture.
Get active: If you’re a running nerd like me, take advantage of the beautiful scenery around you. If there is a river with running and biking paths along it take the opportunity and use them. I ended up entering the 10k portion of the Salzburg Marathon because I loved running in the area. (The race bag and free products at the end of the race are usually local as well. I mean, who wouldn’t want free local Austrian beer at the end of a 10k run?) Large, snowy mountains, green, blooming trees and crystal clear water are the greatest motivators to get you to explore in Salzburg or anywhere for that matter.
Volunteer your time: Involve yourself with local activities; it’s definitely worth it. See if there is somewhere where you can volunteer your time such as an elementary school or maybe there is a local bakery that needs some extra help. Get out there and find out!
Not only will these suggestions help you make memories that you will remember forever, you will become more comfortable with your surroundings and it will help you feel at home. It seems scary at first to explore new places, especially if you don’t speak the local language. Take it from me—explore as much as you can and don’t take a moment of time for granted. Who knows, maybe your vacation or study abroad could change your life forever. There’s only one way to find out: be adventurous, outgoing and friendly and don’t be afraid of exploring.