My most important educational experience was the college term I spent in France. It was life-changing, broadening my narrow view of the world, giving me the alternate reality of another culture and language, and addicting me to café au lait. It’s not the particular place you go, it’s the différence (as they say in France) that counts. It’s not the courses you take abroad, it’s the different people, language, and natural world you are surrounded with. The more foreign, the better. Choose a program that puts you in a non-English-speaking family instead of a dorm with other Americans. No matter how bad you think you are at learning a foreign language, you’ll see how wrong you were once you’re immersed in it. Your brain automatically learns it. If your college doesn’t offer what you want, find another college that does and transfer the credits.
Do a “cash-flow projection” at the beginning of each month. That sounds imposing, but it’s just adding up expected income and outflow. To establish a baseline, keep track for a month of each expenditure and infusion of income — easy to do with debit cards. Your cash-flow projection will show you where you’ll have to cut back on expenses or when you’ll have to do some begging. On that point, always plead for more loan or scholarship money in neat and clean but not expensive or fancy clothes.
You’ll probably spend much of your life listening to music. Electronic devices make that increasingly true. Why not know something about it? Knowledge increases appreciation — that is, pleasure. Your college may have courses in American Popular Music, World Music, or Music Appreciation. Sign up for one. There is more than Rihanna and Justin Timberlake — such wonderful things as jazz, folk, blues, country, world music, and the eternally popular classical.
Restaurant and Café
First Principles Ethnic foods, which are usually awfully Americanized, are cheapest but can be simply awful. Standard American restaurant food comes in such piggish proportions than you can buy one meal and split it for two (it will be allowed). Always be polite to your server; tip at least 20 percent. Café baked goods and coffee are the most overpriced items in America, but cafés are fundamentally selling atmosphere, so find a café with a good one — and there’s no need to leave in a hurry. If possible, support the local businesses.
No need for expensive dry cleaning except for your one suit, blazer, or good dress. Does anyone do ironing anymore? Wash simple stuff in the sink and tub. Goodwill, Salvation Army, and other thrift boutiques are where the “heritage”-chic shop.
Faculty Office Hours
“Talk to faculty,” says a professor friend. “Don’t go in asking for a higher grade, but learn about their research and interests, about their careers. Too few students come in asking for help or advice.” Hard as it is for many students to believe, teachers can become good friends.