We asked fellow Dream Abroad members what they would do differently if they were just starting out on their adventures now. Dalal recently finished studying abroad at FSU (Florida State University). She earned her Master’s of Science from their College of Education.
After studying in Tallahassee, Florida, here are five things that I know now:
1. Technology Can Make Adjusting Easier
During my journey as a graduate studying abroad at FSU, I downloaded several phone apps that helped in getting around. I downloaded Uber, a really useful app which will help you access your location directly from your smartphone.
I found Kayak another extremely helpful app. Kayak is an app and website which functions as a search engine, comparing the prices across several travel companies for flights, hotels, and even renting cars.
Finding Halal Food Around Town
As a Muslim, I only eat poultry and meat/lamb that are halal which means that it is slaughtered according to the Islamic Sharia. Back in Tallahassee, it was really difficult to locate places that sold halal food and I was limited to only four restaurants, tops. So, whenever I wanted to cook something at home, I would order my meat from Midamar Halal. It sells all kinds of halal food including pizza, frankfurters, steaks, ribs, chicken, beef, and turkey. Their high-quality food comes frozen, in great quality, and shipped to my apartment complex.
Zabinah app also assisted me in locating restaurants that sold halal food. This offered a list of suitable restaurants nearby. What makes this app so great is that it offers reasons why a restaurant is on the halal list. For example, one restaurant is halal because its owners are Muslims. Other places may be on the halal list just because of verbal assurance from staff or the halal sign in the diner. The app also offers several cuisines from which the user can choose.
2. You Need a Car
For about 15 months, I saw the streets of Tallahassee from a back-seat window. I didn’t own a car. The College of Education was only a three-minute walk from where I lived. I didn’t think I needed a car. Whenever I wanted to go grocery shopping or to the mall, I called a cab. For the year I lived in Tally, I spent a lot on taxis to get around.
After relying on cabs, Uber, or friends to get around during most of my time as a graduate student, I went to the airport to rent a car for only a few days. I wanted to explore how it felt driving around in the States. The experience was exciting and joyful! I finally got to see Tallahassee from the front-seat window. Because I lived in Tally for a year, I was familiar with its streets. I recommend having a car because after two years using a cab or Uber to go everywhere it got expensive.
3. There Is so Much to See
Coming from such a small country, Kuwait, the number of places you can actually visit is limited. In comparison, the United States has an almost endless number of areas to explore, have fun, and even hang out. Whenever I had a break from the university, like during Thanksgiving or other events, I made sure to explore a new state. I had the opportunity to visit New York on New Year’s Eve. I also went to Virginia, Washington D.C, and flew to Chicago and California. Plus I also travelled around Florida and took in Tampa and Orlando.
Everywhere I visited offered its own wonderful experience. I wish I had had much more time to explore even more of the United States. My advice to you is to take advantage of your time while you’re studying abroad. Embrace your wanderlust and broaden your horizons by seeing as much as you can. After all, according to CNN’s Lisa Ling; “The best education I have ever received was through travel.”. Studying abroad at FSU gave me an opportunity to see new attractions and embrace new cultures.
4. Don’t Pack Your Whole Closet to Avoid the Overweight Fees
I still remember the humongous suitcase that I took with me on my journey to study abroad. It actually took two bags to get here: a carry-on and a backpack for my essentials. I felt so overwhelmed with the idea of living abroad for the first time in my life that I practically packed my whole closet. So I took winter clothes, from parkas to scarves, to summer clothes like flip flops, practically everything that you can imagine.
When I arrived at my apartment in Tally that first day and unpacked, I noticed that my closet was almost full before I had even unpacked everything that I had brought along with me! Even when my journey neared its end, half of the clothes I bought had never been used, so I ended up shipping them back to Kuwait.
I advise you to pack light and avoid the overweight fees. It’s true that at some point when you’re packing you’ll feel that you will need to take your whole closet but just try to limit yourself. Anything that you might need is available in the States. If you’re studying in a small town where many brands are unavailable, you can enjoy the luxury of shopping online. Whenever I felt bored, and I needed a new item, I instantly went online and ordered something . So, my advice to you is to focus on the journey itself and to try to avoid packing all of your clothes from your home country.
5. Stereotypes of Studying Abroad at FSU
Based on the number of American movies and TV shows that we see every day on TV, many non-Americans would assume that Americans’ favorite foods are pizza, burgers, and hot dogs. For something even as simple as a favorite food, many people tend to have stereotypes based on what they see on TV or what they hear in the news.
My experience living abroad in Tally taught me that television or the news presents only a fraction of reality. Just as people come in all different shapes and colors, they also have different perspectives and interests – and they are all beautiful. Living abroad in Tallahassee made me realize that you will only truly understand a certain culture and its people when you are actually living among them. Always have a welcoming heart and welcome people’s differences as they are all dazzling. It is also important to note that being a Muslim and wearing a Hijab didn’t make me feel like an outcast or different from my non-Muslim friends, despite how that is presented on the news.
On the contrary, I felt accepted and welcomed by my classmates and professors as if I was one of their own. I am forever grateful for the welcoming hearts of FSU’s faculty members and classmates for making me feel safe. I found those positive and welcoming vibes in every city and state I visited. Although some people are bad and have their own false stereotypes, there is also some good in this world. Therefore, never generalize and assume that all people are the same — block out the prejudice and interact with everyone.