Preparing for Your Study Abroad Experience
The preparation may seem intimidating, but the experience will be completely worth it
By Katie Christoff, University of Dayton
So you’ve made the decision to study abroad. You’ve completed what seems like thousands of applications and meetings with your advisor, and you’ve finally made your dream of living and studying in a foreign country a reality. The hard part is over, right?
Wrong. The tedious paperwork may be completed, and sure, you’ll sleep easier at night knowing that you can go abroad without spending an extra year at your home university, but now it’s time to really prepare yourself for the adventure that lies ahead.
I spent last semester studying at the National University of Ireland Maynooth, which is located in a small town just outside Dublin. I chose this university because they had a direct exchange program with my own university. This made the decision to study abroad a fairly simple one. But once that decision was made, I had to spend the summer before my departure preparing myself for the major impact it was about to have on my life.
I had never been to Ireland before, or anywhere in Europe at all, for that matter, so my expectations could only be formed by what others told me. “The weather is going to be awful, it rains there every day!” and “You’re just going to drink Guinness every night!” were some of the most popular pieces of wisdom others chose to give me, but these insights didn’t even begin to cover the questions I had about living in a new country for three months. Preparing to study abroad is one of the most intimidating tasks I’ve encountered, but I came to discover that this uncertainty is part of the fun. If you’re facing a similar situation, just take a deep breath and read up on some of these tips.
Embracing a new culture:
If you’re headed somewhere you’ve never been before, chances are you have no idea what to expect. Luckily it’s easy to find countless travel blogs and Pinterest boards detailing the experiences of those who have gone before you, so read up on any wisdom they can share! Of course you can only truly discover what it will be like to live in your chosen destination after you’ve done it yourself, but it might still be a good idea to read about the history, traditions, food, music, and slang before you go. Basic knowledge like this will only enhance your appreciation of your new culture when you finally experience it for yourself. I spent the summer before I went abroad attempting to learn more about Irish culture, and I also consistently visited Dublin tourism websites so I had a better idea of what I wanted to do and see during my three short months there.
Preparing your finances:
Studying abroad will make many aspects of your life richer – all except your wallet, that is. You will emerge from the experience culturally, socially and personally enriched, but there’s a good chance you’ll also emerge with an extremely depleted bank account. Look up the exchange rate of the country you’re headed to and consistently keep track so you know exactly how much of your own currency you’ll be spending. Luckily there are apps to help you compare different currencies; I used one called XE Currency and it showed me how many American dollars I was losing each time I withdrew more Euros from the ATM. This may sound discouraging, but it’s important to be mindful of exchange rates before your departure so you have time to work and save up as much money as you think you’ll need.
It’s never too soon to face one of the most daunting aspects of studying abroad: transporting all of your most valuable possessions across the world with you. It is physically impossible to take everything you’re used to having at your disposal, so start preparing yourself for a more low-maintenance lifestyle.
When it comes to clothes, it’s a good idea to pack lots of basic, functional pieces that you know you’ll get a lot of wear out of. Make sure to research the climate of the country you’re headed to during the specific time of year you’ll be there. Pack lots of functional, comfortable clothing for all the traveling you’re bound to do with a good balance of nicer outfits for all the inevitable pub crawls that will happen during these travels. And get over your fear of outfit-repeating now; save some space in your suitcase and just really embrace those few favorite tops of yours.
Remember that life’s basic necessities are sold in every country; you’ll be able to buy soap, shampoo, etc. once you reach your destination. Unless you’re extremely attached to a specific brand that’s popular in your country, you can buy anything upon arrival. Keeping that in mind, don’t stress about packing because anything that is forgotten can be bought upon arrival. You’re about to begin the adventure of a lifetime. You may not have your entire closet and makeup bag at your disposal anymore, but the more amazing experiences you have, the less this will seem to matter.
Studying abroad may require a lot of preparation, but every minute of effort you put into it is worth it. You’ve already made the decision to leave the comfort of home and experience something new. Compared to that, the rest is a piece of cake. Just keep these tips in mind and do your research about your chosen destination and you’ll be more than ready when the time comes for your adventure to finally begin.