Before you head out to a foreign country to study, there are some essential things to be aware of. I’ve studied abroad twice and have figured out a few things that should make your adventure a little easier and as comfortable as possible.
Before getting to the main entries of this post there is one piece of advice that I will probably repeat all over this blog’s international study posts: Always make copies of your important information before leaving, and stow it away some place safe. This means making a copy of your passport, your driver’s license or ID, your class schedule, any university documents with your name on them, and your travel itinerary. If something should happen and you lose your things, you will most definitely want to have this information on hand.
Be Familiar— First of all, know where you are going, and not just the country and a few fun facts about it. It is important to know some of the language (even if it’s just a phrase book), cultural differences and nuances, and places you will want to visit while you’re there. I was lucky to have studied German in school for years before going to Dresden for certification and intern programs. Being as familiar with the language as I was, my classmates often looked to me for ordering food, translating signs and conversations, and meeting local students. While my language skills were good enough to be helpful, there were others who were familiar enough with the city and the region to lead us around a bit and gave us weekend trip suggestions. I took a tip from that experience and did a little research before my second study abroad excursion. Before heading out for my year long internship, I read over the websites of the city itself, local business, and of course blogs about the area. I found a bunch of information that helped me plan out short trips, weekend activities, and even things like how to deal with culture shock (coming soon to this blog!).
Know what to take with you and what to buy there— I know you are probably a poor college student like I was, but that doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to pick up essential things once you get there. Packing is a super important part of travel, especially when preparing for an extended stay. Here is everything I packed for a year abroad:
That’s right, I packed two bags for a year abroad. It just didn’t make sense to bring more. The money it would have cost me to pay for a heavier bag or an additional carry on was money I later spent on things I couldn’t fit: like a winter jacket, an extra pair of shoes, some books, full sized hygiene products, and essential school supplies (some of which you should bring with you because you will not necessarily find your favorite brands there). Not to mention, the souvenirs and gifts I would end up bringing back and needing to cram into my bags. Travel light and you will thank me.
Get ready for culture shock— This happens in a lot of different ways. For me, culture shock amounted to something like being homesick a few months in. It took a while, but after the initial excitement of being in a foreign country wore off, everything around me seemed strange and kind of uncomfortable, like even similar things were just a little bit off. I’ve heard of other people who feel it, and to a greater degree, almost as soon as they get off the plane. As fun as it sounds to be abroad, it really is a challenge to your senses and way of living. For instance, even though it was a relatively small thing, I got really tired of waiting at cross walks in Dresden. In the United States, jaywalking is really no big deal; if you’re an adult and can see the road is clear, you probably just walk across. Not the Germans I was around. Every pedestrian who wanted to cross a street would go to the designated cross walk and wait until they got the green light no matter how late at night or calm the streets were. It drove me a little insane, like just cross the empty road already! It’s important to stay calm, and to remind yourself that you are in an interesting new place that will be something you look back on for the rest of your life. Don’t let it get to you too much. And besides, there are things like original version movies (in English) that play maybe once a week at movie theaters and you probably can find a bar that is playing the World Series. Just remain your adventurous self to find ways of feeling at home. Also, check out my upcoming Study Abroad Tips: Culture Shock for some ways to feel better about your, in the end, amazingly awesome situation.
Studying abroad is no small thing. There are a million tips and pieces of advice that I can, and eventually will, give. For now, as you prepare to set out on your educational journey, keep these three big points in mind to prepare yourself for the fun experiences to come.
And remember, study hard!