Coming back from a year-long study abroad program, I thought I’d share some pearls of wisdom with people about to start their programs in the fall with a few general tips.
Your host city: A few things you should know a few things about your host country and city before going there to stay.
- What type of government they have and important politicians and current issues and local attitudes towards all of the above.
- Important public transit routes you could be taking around the city and what other type of travel options there are, such as the nearest airport, coach station or national rail station.
- What the local sports and entertainment is, including local teams.
- Local stores and where to buy what, including food, clothes, school supplies and more.
- Normal business hours and holidays.
- Understand the school system, particularly the chronology. For American students studying in the United Kingdom, you can read up on the differences I’ve noticed here.
- What the local weather is like.
- You country’s voltage and what you will need a converter for (I only needed it for a hairdryer).
- Appropriate greetings and friendly (and not so friendly) gestures.
- How most students manage their finances (how loans work, if they have an overdraft, etc.).
- Appropriate dress, slang and language and the local attitudes towards religion.
Packing: No matter what, you will probably over pack. But here are some things you should consider.
- DO pack an appropriate amount of clothes for a variety of weather conditions (lay out what you think you’re going to bring and take about half of that), memorabilia from home (photos, etc.), prescription pills and documents (copy of passport, university acceptance letter, etc.). You can read more of my personal packing tips here.
- DON’T pack heavy coats, large shampoo bottles or (thick) towels.
- BUY sheets, kitchen supplies, large shampoo bottles upon arrival in your host country.
- Avoid buying a lot of (heavy) things in your host country to bring back with you.
Trips: A lot of students choose to travel during their time abroad. Here are a few quick tips for traveling students:
- Don’t book too far in advance. At least wait until you have your timetable and important due dates before you book any trips, especially ones longer than a couple of days.
- Once you have your flight and your accommodation, book museums and other activities in advance. A lot of museums will let you skip the queue if you already have a ticket.
- Check the baggage policy well in advance. A lot of budget airlines have strict baggage size and quantity restrictions.
- When I get overwhelmed in a new place, I often ask the hostel front desk where to eat and what to do. It’s their job to know all the best places to eat and best ways to experience the city!
- Explore your host city and country (if it’s small enough) as much as possible.
- Don’t be caught without a water bottle. If you don’t want to pack a refillable one, buy a plastic one at the airport and refill it for the duration of your trip. Stay hydrated!
- If you plan on taking several trips, make a basic checklist so you don’t forget the little things. For ideas, check out mine.
- To each their own, but I like to avoid drinking (excessively) on trips. You can get drunk anywhere and drinking too much will just make you ill, sleep late and miss the real experiences!
- If you’re like me and too cheap to pay for an international phone plan, it’s imperative to learn how to read a map. Hostels will often hand them out for free. Be sure you also recall landmarks near your hostel and the street it’s on in case you’ve lost your way.
- Don’t be afraid to travel alone. You can do what you want, when you want, for how long you want! It’s a great way to come outside your comfort zone and meet fellow student travelers. Read up on all my pros and cons of traveling alone here.
- It’s important to understand this now: nothing ever goes as planned, shit happens, but you quickly learn to roll with the punches. No matter how long it may take or how hopeless things seem in the moment, there’s a strong chance things will turn out just fine.
- Avoid hanging out with a lot of people from your home country. It’s a nice to have some similarity in a foreign place, but don’t cling to them!
- Understand the kind of work ethic it takes to succeed on the “study” part of your study abroad journey.
- Don’t be afraid to ask “stupid” questions. If you don’t understand what a word or phrase means, ask, and then you can laugh at yourself later. Or just use Urban Dictionary.
- I will always be thankful I documented (mostly) everything by keeping this blog. I also kept physical memorabilia in the form of tickets, maps and more for a scrapbook. Here is a post on the things I put in my scrapbook.
- Make time for friends and family at home, but not too much time. They’ll be there when you get back.
- If you’re struggling in any way, talk to someone. Study abroad advisers are trained to handle homesickness, culture shock and more.
Your time goes by quicker than you’ll ever imagine, don’t let it pass you by!