Valley Overseas: How to Avoid Being an “Idiot Abroad”

Whether it’s taking classes in a foreign country or interning overseas, college is the perfect time to experience a new place and immerse yourself in a different culture. Being abroad can supply a lifetime of memories you’ll never forget… and some memories you’ll never want to remember. One writer interning in Beijing, China for the summer shares her tips and smarts. Follow these steps to avoid trouble and ensure a worry-free adventure.

Get street smart

From dodgy scams at popular tourist attractions to crosswalk obstacle courses, informal rules exist everywhere and breaking them is a dead give-away for spotting foreigners, especially in an enormous city like Beijing. (In case you were wondering, bikes and cars are unquestionably at the top when it comes to the hierarchy of road traffic here. So long, pedestrian right-of-way.)

Words of advice: Learn the ins-and-outs of the city you’re visiting and don’t take candy from strangers, so to speak. A disaster waiting to happen can easily be disguised as an innocent student asking you to visit her “art show” at Tiananmen Square or a mysterious driver offering you a ride home in an unofficial taxi.  Refrain from looking like an out-of-towner by knowing where not to step and who to avoid. Trouble comes out of naiveté.

Dress to the occasion

Before you set foot in your new destination, read up on cultural taboos. Not every country is lenient with modern fashion trends. As a respectful visitor, do some research and make sure to pack appropriately.

(Side note: If you’re planning on visiting the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong in Beijing, forget about wearing open-toed sandals or shorts.)

You don’t necessarily have a duty to abide by the dress code standards but in many instances, it’s frowned upon so don’t be surprised if your crop top receives some disapproving glares on the subway.

Travel with a friend

Socialize with other interns, classmates, or locals and get yourself a traveling buddy. Exploring a foreign country alone can be intimidating and oftentimes, can leave you more prone to phony offers or unwanted company. Besides — the more the merrier! Adventure is fun with friends along for the ride with you.

Think of it this way: If you do end up in a stressful scenario, you won’t be left to fend on your own.

Develop a sense of direction

Understandably, your natural GPS won’t settle in at the get-go. No worries. Pass the time during cab rides by learning the names of major streets, familiarize yourself with the area you’re staying in by walking place to place, and keep an eye out for interesting landmarks that you can use as directional cues later down the road. At the very least, know how to get back to where you are staying.

Be aware of your surroundings

In many instances, bad experiences abroad are not the stuff of horror movies but are simply a result of tourists letting their guard down and becoming targets of minor crimes. Sure, statistics may reveal that an area is safe but take that information with a grain of salt.

The most common crime in Beijing? Pickpocketing. Let loose but keep a firm clutch on your personal belongings. You can never be too careful.


With that being said, you can still have a good time. Just remember to be smart, be aware, and be safe. Happy traveling!