Cultural Experience | Packing Lists

12 Ways to Prepare for Study Abroad

Studying abroad but don’t know what to do before you go? Use these tips to help you get ready for the adventure of a lifetime!

Studying abroad is an incredibly rewarding experience, but preparing for it is equally intimidating. When I was getting ready to leave, I had no idea where to begin or what to do. Here are some things that will help you prepare for study abroad that I wish someone had told me before I left.

1) Research the culture/customs of your future country.

Nothing is scarier than arriving in a new country and knowing nothing about it. Perhaps your host country dresses conservatively. Maybe people in your host country greet each other in a certain way. Do they eat their meals late at night? Do they take siestas? What’s the nightlife like? These are important things to know before you leave for your time abroad. Search for blog posts, scour College Tourist, read expat websites and ask people you know who have been there to give you some tips. Not only will knowing the certain cultural quirks help you blend in, it will also help you feel more comfortable upon arrival and make the transition much easier!

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Most things might be bilingual, but still be sure to learn the basics

2) If you don’t know it already, start learning the language of your host country.

This goes for countries you plan on visiting as well. Nothing is worse than a rude American who assumes that everyone else speaks English! Even if you only know a few phrases, it will go a lot further than not knowing anything. Plus, knowing words and phrases will help you feel more confident when you arrive and natives will treat you more politely because of it. Use apps like Duolingo and Memrise for basic language instruction or for a refresher on languages you’ve been studying,

3) Make a packing list…and cut it in half.

I’m a chronic over packer. I like to be prepared for every possible situation, and in my mind that translates to attempting to bring every item I could possibly need while abroad. When packing to study abroad, make a packing list and cut it in half. If you’re studying abroad for a semester you don’t need more than one suitcase. Lay out all the clothes you think you’ll need and take out at least half, if not more. Pack items that are versatile and wrinkle free. Skip the five-pound rain boots and waterproof your shoes instead. Maybe forget about the bright pink sequin dress you have very little chance of wearing and opt for a black dress that can be worn on many different occasions. Be flexible and compromise. Also remember that you can (and probably will) buy new stuff once you get there.

For helpful packing lists, click here.

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My study abroad journal

4) Start a blog or get a journal.

You’ll do so much while abroad. Not to sound cliché, but every day is a new adventure of exploring a new city or traveling to a country, making a fool of yourself, or reaching some new point of self discovery. You need to remember these experiences to a) brag to your friends and family b) keep them updated and c) have something to look back on for years to come besides pictures you took on your camera. Create a blog (it’s super easy), sign up for an author’s profile on College Tourist (here) or grab a writing journal if you’re more the pen and paper type and write about everything you think you might want to remember or share later on. You won’t regret it!

5) Fill your prescriptions/purchase any medicines or toiletries that may be hard to find in your host country. Know the generic names of basic medicines because brand names will be different.

If you’re in a country for only a semester, it will be much harder to get prescriptions filled so bring what you’ll need as well as extra just in case. Also, some products you use regularly might not be available in your host country. Do some research and find out if you’ll need to stock up before you go. Also make sure you learn the generic names of cold or allergy medicines as brand names will not be the same.

6) Make a list of things you want to do in your host city and plan on doing as much as you can when you arrive.

You’ll be in a completely new city with so much to offer. Make a list of things you really want to do and get through all the tourist sights first, because you’ll be more motivated to do them. Study abroad goes by incredibly fast and before you know it, it’ll be time to go. So make the most of what your city has to offer…because nothing is worse than studying in London for three months without going to Westminster Abbey or Tower of London when they’re not at all out of your way.

7) Make a list of trips you want to take and create a tentative plan.

Yes, your trip plans will inevitably change, but create a travel goal list if you want to see more than just your host city. Factor in trips your program might sponsor. Do not plan to spend every weekend traveling—you won’t get the feel of your host city and you’ll just end up being exhausted all the time. Instead, try to find a balance and pick places to visit that have attractions that you really must see. Don’t jet off to a city just to say you’ve been there if it doesn’t really interest you.

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A sunset from my hometown to help me when I’m feeling homesick

8) Find something to remind you of home.

You’ll get homesick while abroad. It’s inevitable. You’re used to being away from home while at university but studying abroad is completely different. It’s a different culture, a different language, and much further away. Bring something that reminds you of home so you can decorate your room or desk. It will help those moments when you’re missing home the most and will remind you to be grateful of the opportunity to study abroad. Photographs and postcards are a great, very lightweight option!

9) Make a budget/start saving money.

Traveling is expensive. If you’re studying in Europe, it’s even more expensive than you might think. Do some research on the cost of living in your host city and create a tentative budget or spending limit. Get Mint on your iPhone to help with your budget and figure out how much you want to spend on food, nightlife and shopping. It might be hard to stick with your budget at first, but it will help you keep track of how much you spend so you have enough money to eat, and more importantly, travel. Also, save as much money as you can before you leave so you can make the most of your time abroad!

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I live a mere ten minutes walk from Borough Market, one of the best food markets in the world. It would have taken me a long time to realize this if I had not researched my neighborhood beforehand!

10) Research the area you’ll be living in.

Once you get your housing or know where your host university is, do some research on the area and see what’s around it. Maybe you live a mere ten minutes away from one of the world’s best food markets (like I was delighted to find out when researching my study abroad housing). Knowing a little bit about your area will help you feel more comfortable when you get there and will help give you a sense of the neighborhood.

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One last meal at my favorite restaurant from home!

11) Eat your favorite meals before you go.

You’ll miss your favorite foods while abroad. Nothing is quite like your mom’s home cooking or a dish at your favorite restaurant. Have your favorite meals in the weeks leading to your departure so you can get them in one last time before you leave. And make your last meal at home something you probably won’t get to eat in your host country.

12) Get excited!

Finally, get excited! Studying abroad will be one of the best experiences of your life. You’ll learn a lot, see a lot, and have the time of your life. After you’re finished preparing, take time to [try to] relax and think about everything that will happen in the near future. Before you know it, you’ll be living in a different country, seeing another part of the world, and having the time of your life.

Alex Mathews

Davidson College | 8 stories

Alex is a senior at Davidson College in North Carolina studying Political Science and French. She spent her junior year abroad at the London School of Economics and spent Summer 2014 abroad in Paris, where she visited 13 countries and 43 cities. In her free time she loves blogging at her personal site: lifewellwandered.com , reading, planning dream trips, drinking tea, and exploring.


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