It’s like the first day of school all over again. The butterflies in your stomach. Nervous, anxious and excited all at the same time. Who will I meet? Where will I travel to? How will I survive without my smartphone for such a long time?
These questions are what every single student getting ready to go abroad often ask themselves. And they also experience the emotions of feeling nervous and excited at the same time for what lies ahead.
Every person’s abroad experience is different, however, we all have the same general thought process when it comes to figuring out how to successfully survive & enjoy the new surroundings we are placed in. Don’t fret; here are some tips and essentials every student should know before they go abroad.
1.) Get to know the country history/culture before you go.
You want to familiarize yourself with the country you are traveling to as much as possible. It will not only be easier for you, but also easier for the locals. For example, if you are traveling to a country where they do not speak primarily English, become familiar with the language and pick up key phrases here and there. Even though you aren’t fluent, the local people appreciate that you try to learn and use their language. It will also be beneficial to you because you have a better chance of connecting and understanding them and their culture. You want to get as much as you can from your abroad experience, and learning a new language is definitely a plus.
*Another tip: For English-speaking countries like Ireland, the U.K. and Australia, try to learn phrases they use and the meanings behind some of their words. For example, the term “chips” in Ireland and in the U.K. does not refer to a bag of Lays, they are talking about what we call “french fries!”
2.) Order currency before you get to the country!
The U.S. dollar is weaker compared to euros, pounds, and even Australian dollars. You will definitely get more of your money’s worth if you order a different currency at your bank. It will also make it easier for you because then you have cash on hand, and won’t have to worry about exchanging money at the airport or taking cash out of an ATM right away.
Always call your bank and let them know at least 2 weeks in advance when you will be traveling abroad and how long you will be there for. The bank can freeze your account if you try to take money out of an ATM if you did not notify them beforehand. Also, be aware that most ATM’s in the U.K. and Europe, it is free to withdraw money, but check with your bank because they may charge you for withdrawing money that is not from their ATM’s.
3.) Pack Light & Only Bring the Essentials
This one may be hard for some people to fully grasp, but packing smart is EVERYTHING. From firsthand experience, I had some issues packing five months worth of stuff into 2 suitcases. But believe me, you will be very happy that you only brought stuff that you needed. For most airlines, they allow one free checked bag (usually with a 50lb weight limit, so watch out if your bag is over– you will have to pay an additional fee!) & also a carry-on and a personal item (which can be a purse, backpack, laptop bag, etc.) Bring things that are essential and only clothes that you will wear on a regular basis. Make sure that you have all your important documents, like visa papers and your passport in a safe location and where you can easily access it.
4.) Don’t be afraid to use public transportation!
Public transportation will be essential to where ever you go, even if you are not studying in a major city like London or Paris. You will need to know how to use public transportation, especially when you are traveling. Most metro systems in major cities are pretty easy to figure out, and even if you have trouble figuring out where to go, don’t be afraid to ask! When buying a train or bus pass for traveling, make sure it is a day pass so you get your money’s worth.
If you ARE studying abroad in a major city like London, they offer student discounts for public transportation. It would be smart to get a student Oyster card, which applies to both the Underground and bus system. It gives you up to 30% on each ride, so definitely take advantage of student travel discounts in whatever city you go to!
5.) Don’t be nervous if you don’t know anyone in your program…you WILL make friends!
The whole study abroad appeal is that you get to meet new people from all over the world, so don’t be worried if you do not know anyone from your home university!!! You will meet a lot of other American and foreign students, all of whom are in the same boat. Take advantage of your new surroundings and meet new people in your flat or dorm. Go to the pub down the road with those Irish students in your Intro to Gaelic class. Studying abroad is all about experiencing new things and taking risks, so put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to meet new people!
6.) Document your experiences.
Take pictures. Blog. Write in a journal. Do something to make the most of your experience and document every minute of it! You will want to look back at your abroad experience and have some sort of evidence of what you did while you were over there. Blogging and taking pictures are also a great way to keep in touch with people from home, and let them know what is going on.
Also, don’t worry about it if you don’t have access to your phone while you are in a foreign country. There are other ways to keep in touch with people from home, like Skype, Facebook, Twitter, and emailing. It is much easier to buy a prepaid phone while you are abroad and only use it in certain circumstances.
Hopefully, these tips will help any of you who are studying abroad in the future! Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and every student should take advantage of everything that is presented to them. Safe travels!!