Juanita Smith

Research Project: Getting Underground: An Exploration of Independent Filmmakers and Their Films

You are where I was just a few years ago. Rocking your college classes, flirting with all the cuties and regularly hitting up Au Bon Pain for the best danishes. Life is good – on fleek if you will, but you still haven’t gotten your epic-ness to go global. And then InterFuture sends you a letter.

As someone who once stood in your potential-filled shoes, I am going to give you a few suggestions to maximize your time abroad. Every tip on this list has been adapted into my everyday life, not just travel experiences and has made me a better person for it.

5. Be nice to the gatekeeper! This is the best piece of advice certainly served me well throughout my travels and studies. The secretary, security guard, librarian and anyone else who has a key or information needs to become your new best friend! Most important people have a first line of defense to weed out unwanted interactions. BE SO NICE TO THE FIRST LINE! This is the groundwork of networking. Know the names of those “invisible people” that make things happen.

4. Embrace the culture! There is not going to be a Ruby Tuesdays or AMC 24 or Apple Store. GOOD! That is why you are here! Participate even if you feel uncomfortable or silly. You will understand more the more you get involved. Not to mention, some customs are just awesome! Soon you will be implementing your own siesta time, drinking ginger beer and wondering why all the people back home are missing out.

3. Copy your passport! My mom said this to me and I didn’t believe her. Having traveled the world in the military, I considered her experience irrelevant to my study abroad. She copied my passport 8 times and tucked it into every one of my bags anyway. This came in handy on several occasions like when my bag didn’t meet me in the Canary Islands or when I was pickpocketed in Barcelona. Having no identification as a non-resident is not an option. And while you are copying that passport – go ahead and copy your work too.

2. Pack light – for real! If you don’t want to carry it, don’t bring it. Seriously. No one is going to help you and no one understands why you need 4 bags to spend the weekend in Ibiza. You are also going to want to buy cool new things for yourself and souvenirs for your family anyway. Save on luggage fees! Underwear, thumb drive, smartphone and shampoo are all you need to get started…

1. Trust your instincts! Cabbie take you to a sketchy neighborhood? That guy looking at you oddly? DON’T BRUSH IT OFF! In a place where you may not know the language or customs, all you can go on is your gut and your gut knows. All the times I was in trouble abroad, it is because I didn’t follow my instincts. Nothing terrible happened to me, but trust yourself- you are badass!

When people ask about InterFuture, I say I learned more in this one year of travel and study than in the other 3 years combined of my college education (and they do ask a lot- so slide it on that resume)! It was challenging but I would do it all again! Good luck, have fun and remember you haven’t really lived until you have been locked in a subway station, haggled over an orange soda and jumped onto a moving bus to get to home. It’s okay to be uncomfortable – that’s the way every adventure starts!