Life Advice: On Studying Abroad and the Speed of Land Animals

Questions are in! And wow, they’re…colourful. Half of you want serious help. The other half need serious help.

Just kidding. I’ll post responses weekly, and if you don’t see your question here, hang tight. Every one will go up eventually.

I’m in my first year of university for writing. The program is four years long, and I’ve been thinking of ways to stay in school and travel. Studying abroad came to mind, but I want to find something that focuses on writing. I don’t want to shell out a lot of money just to take some general English classes in another country. The fourth year of the programs is an internship. This can be anything writing relating, and could be done anywhere. I could get an internship/job in another country, But I don’t know if I can wait for another three years. I’m afraid if I think about this too much I’ll start to go over the “what-ifs” and I’ll wimp out. What should I do?

Oh man, do I ever understand this pickle. I’ve been broke my entire life and dreaming of travel since I was a kid, yet could never make it happen. I didn’t want to wait until after my education to save money and travel. I was 21 before I even left my province, to study in England for 6 weeks. I took out a student line of credit to help me out, and although I’m still paying it off, I don’t regret it for even a second.

hangover hour

The town where I studied abroad in England. How British.

GO NOW. Go now before you pop out a baby or lose your nerve or fall down a flight of stairs and permanently disable yourself. Morbid, right? It could happen.

I don’t know your university, but the brilliant thing about being a student is you can prolong the real world as long as possible and there’s nobody in a better position to travel than you. You owe the world nothing, exploit those student resources for all they’re worth.

I would arrange a date with a student counsellor and ask about your options. Chances are you can do an exchange, attend a university somewhere and attend classes that will SOMEHOW give you credit. There’s a loophole in everything, trust me, and almost every university I know supports exchanges and study abroad programs. Why? Because foreigners pay ridiculously high tuition fees to study in Canada, so it only makes sense to reciprocate and exchange goods (i.e. students). You just have to work for it. Hell, just do it for one semester and if you end up with a few extra credits you don’t need, who cares.

It’s a learning experience, and the time you spend abroad will boost your writing career like whoa. Come back to Canada all armed with amazing stories and write the hell out of them. THEN go abroad again in your fourth year for the internship, why not? Do it do it do it!

How do you suggest I start conversations with strangers while travelling alone?

You’re in luck, because being the incredibly awkward person that I am, I’m fortunate enough to still be able to make friends on the road. I call this the Lonely Desperate Person approach: nobody’s really off limits, but some people are easier to get to know than others.

random people

Awesome random people met during a pubcrawl. Follow my advice, and you too can meet Batman!

Aim for the smaller groups. Chances aren’t you won’t be able to weasel your way into a tight-knit group of 13 travellers, unless you’re female and they’re all hormonal, drunken males. Some of the coolest travel folks you’ll ever meet? Couples. Not the ones making out in the corner, the ones being friendly and open. This may seem unlikely, but they might be starting to get sick of each other and could use some additional company.

Stay in hostels, or Couchsurf. Get over your fears and stop thinking everyone is out to get you. Do your research beforehand, and you’ll be just fine. Don’t be naive.

The best piece of advice I can give, however, is smile. It is outstanding how smiles change everything. I have a tendency to scowl sometimes when I’m in public, I can’t help it. I’m lost in my own little world and you could be screaming my name from across the street and I’ll just keep walking. You know what’s better? Walk with your head upright, relax your tensed-up face, and smile. Don’t be a maniac and grin like someone who has a dirty secret, simply be approachable. Then people will come to you, and you won’t have to do a damned thing.

What’s the sixteenth-fastest land animal?

According to this undeniably legitimate and trustworthy Homework Spot website, the 16th fastest land animal in the world is a domestic rabbit, tied with jackal and mule deer. This is confirmed by the fact that the rabbits’ foremost predators, the fox and coyote, are directly above the rabbit in the list. Ever hear a dying rabbit scream? It’s enough to make you a vegetarian.

Want to submit your own questions? Just use the form in the right-hand column! Nothing is out of bounds. Except nude photos.

  • March 07 2011

    I WANT TO MEET BATMAN!!!!!!!!!!!

  • March 07 2011

    I am totally stealing this idea. MAYBE will give you credit ;)

    Meeting strangers is the biggest hurdle to people starting solo travel, tied in my conversations with “I don’t speak the local language.” Both are really not be feared at all. If anything, I get more pissed when I am traveling alone, because I like to have lots of solo time and so many damn people want to talk, drink beer with you, go sightseeing, etc.

    • March 09 2011

      GASP, don’t you dare!

      I haven’t travelled solo a WHOLE lot so I can’t really recall if people wanted my attention like they seem to want yours. Maybe I’m just not as good looking. Dammit.

  • March 07 2011

    This is so true about befriending couples when you travel solo. I’ve often found couples very easy to approach and hang out with. Once, when my ex and I were traveling together, we were really getting on each other’s nerves. We happened to get into conversation with this older woman traveling by herself and invited her to dinner with us. It saved our night.

    • March 09 2011

      Love that story, Gray! How awesome. As long as you’re not the type of couple to argue with each other in front of a stranger, I’m always willing to hang out.

  • March 07 2011

    Great section! As someone who almost always travels with my husband, I can attest to the fact that couples are always friendly and often looking for people other than each to talk to. Even here at home, when we go out together, we are open to any new faces and new stories! And as a solo female traveler, it’s always nice to befriend people who won’t hit on you or expect anything so you can avoid discomfort, so couples are great!

    • March 09 2011

      VERY good point! There’s some safety in befriending couples. Unless they’re swingers, I guess.

  • March 07 2011

    Ohh nooo, I have a pet rabbit.. I hope he never has the chance to be chased! haha but aside from that.. great tips for traveling alone :]

    • March 09 2011

      Hahaha, let`s hope there are no jackels where you are…

  • March 07 2011

    Watch out world…here is the next Ann Landers! I am so happy for you…I knew this was going to be funny, but you also have really great advice!!! You are really making this into a great website and it looks like it’s getting really popular…which you totally deserve!! Hopefully soon this will pay all your bills!! YEA FOR YOU!! And I’m still working on my question for you…it’s going to be a great one!!!

    • March 09 2011

      Lol, Ann Landers, how awesome! Thanks a lot Kate! :) Love your feedback. Let’s hope one day I CAN pay the bills with this…haha.

  • March 07 2011

    For the study abroad question — I was a creative writing major who studied abroad in Florence and I am now a freelance travel writer and…um…professional blogger/hobo.

    Choose the program that interests you. Don’t worry about a writing program — nobody studies abroad to study, and many programs, with the exception of real universities in English-speaking countries, are academic jokes.

    Most importantly: choose to study in a place that inspires you.

    Take a writing course if the program has one. Don’t worry if they don’t. And use your experiences abroad as inspiration for your writing! Take it from me — for the rest of my time at uni, nearly all my stories took place in Europe.

    Candice — great advice!! Looking forward to more!

    • March 09 2011

      Solid advice on your behalf as well, Kate! Aghhh, Florence. Now that’d be an experience.

  • March 08 2011

    brilliant, knew i would enjoy this Q&A column!

    and i agree with most of the people above about your advice on speaking to strangers when travelling alone. ironically, i found it difficult *not* to meet people when i was travelling alone, even though i really expected to be lonely!

    i think this might be because when i was travelling alone, i was open to meeting people, and almost needed to. in that way, maybe it was a subconscious survival tactic, but i also think that just by having the intention to meet people, and genuinely wanting to make friends, i did.

    i think bars, beer and free hostel dinners also made things easier though!

    and wow, had no idea that rabbits and jackals ranked that high up on the fastest animal list :)

    • March 09 2011

      Thanks for dropping by, Jenna, and I’m glad you enjoyed! I think you’re right, it’s easier to meet people when you’re solo because you feel a lot more pressure to do so. It’s a reassuring thought!

  • March 08 2011

    Thanks for the studying abroad advice Candice. Sometimes I think I’m too practical, and starting school a little later than most (I’m 26) I get freaked out by the possibility of not graduating before I’m thirty. But I really want to travel, so if studying abroad means graduation is a little further off I’ll learn to live with it. I know as intimidating as it seems, I’d regret it forever if I didn’t try. Plus next year they’re completely changing my program of study, so maybe studying abroad would be a better option for me.

    As for meeting people that’s a struggle for me too. I find it funny that you mentioned your tendency to scowl in public because you seem so outgoing online. I have the same problem, I think people probably think I’m stuck up, or angry but really I’m not. It takes me a while to talk to people, I like to observe things first. But I’ve been learning that it’s okay to smile and say hi. The initial awkward conversation is hard, but you can meet some great people.

    • March 09 2011

      I really hope you do choose to study abroad, Alouise! Let me know what you decide to do. I really, really, really think you’d love it. And you’re one of the friendliest people I’ve encountered around here, it should be easy for you to get by on your own. Truth is, I’m so active online because I sometimes find it difficult to meet people offline. Expectations freak me out. It gets easier, though!

      • March 10 2011

        Thanks for the sweet comment. I’ve actually been seriously looking into the study abroad option. It’s a bit too late to apply for fall, but I could go in winter. Which might not be a bad thing, I wouldn’t mind missing an Edmonton winter, especially if it’s been as bad as this one.

  • March 08 2011

    Aw! I love your Q&A’s! What a cool idea! That land animal question is too funny. I really wish I had traveled as a student and used some of those resources. Now it is pretty much too late =(

    Oh and I totally agree about the couples thing. They are nearly always cool, fun people.

    • March 09 2011

      Ah, never too late! Arrange a trip abroad with your students, hehe.

  • March 08 2011

    Love your new column – just like Dear Abbey for travelers. Maybe there will be a book in this after all. Love your RT button on your RSS feed too.

    • March 09 2011

      Lol, thanks Leigh! Dear Abbey, I love it. Someone else said Anne Landers. :)

  • March 08 2011

    Sneezing will also get you into a conversation, so practice your best sneeze and follow that up with the jack rabbit fact, couldn’t hurt.

    • March 09 2011

      That’s sure to be a conversation starter, or at least a closer…

  • March 09 2011

    You are very clever, Candice. But I already knew that. Now I learn that you possess the wisdom of the ages, too. I really need to think of something to ask you.

    • March 09 2011

      Ah, wisdom of the ages! You make me blush. Thanks, Sabina! Ask away.

  • March 09 2011

    Nice Idea Candice. And I would agree that couples tend to be the best for the loner and how can I meet Batman. But not just anyone the one that in the photo!

    • March 09 2011

      I wish I knew! But I think he’s married now, and I think he’s in Ireland…perhaps we can track him down.

  • March 09 2011

    you answer my question, and I take forever to comment! excellent. ;D

    Some pretty solid advice, though :) I used a student line of credit to go to Vegas for credit, and I most definitely do not regret it EVER. I mean, it was part of my path to Newfoundland, after all! :)

    (and, obviously, I fully endorse the smiling advice. this is why so many random strangers talk to me, i smile when i’m uncomfortable.. ;P )

    • March 13 2011

      Yeah, I’m still working on that line of credit…dammit…

  • March 11 2011

    Great advice! When I was travelling solo (before meeting Jack and travelling as a couple) I used to find other solo women travellers to be very approachable. I used to feel hesitant in doing the approach first, then thought to myself ‘What’s the worst that can happen? If it didn’t work out, n a couple of days we probably won’t see each other ever again.”

    And now, travelling as a couple, I agree with some of the prev commenters. Yes, talk to us. We’re driving each other crazy!

  • April 17 2020

    This post is so helpful for all! It is a dream of many students to get college educations from abroad.

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