Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Studying Abroad

G’day mates! I am currently completing a semester abroad in Wollongong, Australia. This trip was nearly two years in the making; I spent every minute I could doing research, mentally preparing, and asking questions about my new home away from home to make sure I was really ready to move abroad for six months. No matter how much I thought I knew before I left, there were definitely some things that caught me off guard once I arrived in the land down under. Here are a few that stand out and can maybe help you when preparing for your time abroad:

1. LANGUAGE BARRIER

One of my requirements when it came to picking a place to study was that I would only go to an English speaking country. I figured, with all the stress of moving abroad for six months, I wanted to at least be able to communicate with the people I’d be interacting with. Even though they speak English here, Australian English may as well be a completely new language. Definitely do some research beforehand about some of the common terms and phases before leaving. That way, when someone says to you “oi mate, you keen for Maccas s’arvo? I’m heaps hungry”, you would actually know how to reply instead of staring blankly. Just because they speak English, doesn't mean the vocabulary and terminology is the same. I definitely got some giggles when I would use American terms and names; my first trip to the grocery store took twice as long as it should because I spent most of the time trying to decipher the labels. And, in case you were wondering, that phrase translates to "Hey friend, do you want to go to McDonald's this afternoon? I'm really hungry". Now, I find myself using Australian slang, and I know my American friends will be making fun of me when I get back home... or maybe I will be a trend setter they will all start speaking like Aussies? 

2. MONEY

I was warned that going abroad would be expensive, but I was not prepared for the amount of money I've spent this semester. It took me this long into the semester to realize, so hopefully knowing before you go will help you stay on top of your spending. The tuition at my host University was not as expensive as a typical semester at CU, but all of the extra costs definitely add up. These include travel, groceries, Ubers, dining out, and overall purchases. In the beginning, I had a hard time accepting that most of the things I buy here will likely not be able to come home with me; I went a little overboard on the room decorations and clothes. Start saving up as soon as you know you are going abroad, or even before. Along with that, make sure to stay on top of your budgeting and spending while overseas. One suggestion I have is to take a certain amount of cash out on Sunday and only spend that money during the week. Set aside a certain amount of your funds specifically for travel, and become familiar with flight comparing sites and backpacker hostels. Back home, take up those extra shifts, pass up a night out with friends, and don’t buy that sweater that is calling your name. Trust me, it will be worth it when you are able to travel to some incredible places and really get the most out of the experience. You don’t want to leave with regrets about not traveling somewhere, so make sure you aren't forced to miss out on things because you don’t have the money. 

3. DON’T PACK TOO MUCH

Unless you are going abroad to a remote country without access to modern stores, chances are you will be able to purchase anything you could need. Still, I barely fit all of my things from home in my allocated two suitcases and carry on bag. Once I arrived, I really regretted the number of unnecessary things that I brought along with me. In terms of clothes, bring a little bit of everything… emphasis on LITTLE. You don’t need to bring all 6 pairs of jeans, 5 pairs of leggings, 8 pairs of shorts, 15 tee shirts, entire makeup collection, every hair product you own, etc. I thought, before leaving, that I wasn't packing enough clothes and I would be without outfit options. But, in reality, I definitely brought too much. Here's my advice when it comes to packing: when going through your closet, only bring things you are 100% sure you will wear. If you pick up a dress and think "I don't know, maybe I'll need it", chances are you won't. Only bring the necessities and any items you are sure can only be bought here in the States. Anything you don't have can likely be bought or borrowed once you arrive. Don't buy too much though, since it all has to fit back in the same suitcases to come home. Fortunately for me, my parents are coming to visit in a few weeks and they are bringing me an extra suitcase to fill up and take back home with them. I still wish I had planned a little bit more!

4. RANDOM PEOPLE WILL FOLLOW YOUR ADVENTURES

I am keeping an online travel diary following my trip. I write posts every week about my adventures, thoughts, and feelings throughout the semester. There are old friends who I hadn't talked to in years, friends of my parents and grandparents, distant relatives, and random people following along with my posts each week and commenting on my social media. I have had so many people contact me and get on my case about when my next post will be uploaded because they are so excited to read it. It is so amazing how many people are actually interested in your time abroad and want to hear all about it! Keep your social media updated, or maybe even consider keeping a blog like I am. It will not only update everyone you care about, but it will also keep the memories alive forever. I cannot wait to go back and re-read my blog to remind myself how much this experience has changed me as a person.

5. IT’S NOT ALWAYS GOING TO BE FUN

Everything prior to going abroad was mainly focused on the positives: the amazing friends you will make, the incredible adventures you will embark on, the memories that will last a lifetime, etc. But, I did not hear too much about the negatives, and I really was not prepared for all the feelings that came along with being so far from home. Going abroad has such an aura of happiness and excitement, that when I experienced some negative feelings, I almost felt guilty for not having fun. Throughout the semester, there were times where I felt an overwhelming sense of loneliness and questioned whether I had made the right choice. I have experienced homesickness, was worried about missing out on fun things back at home, and sometimes feel outright sad. You are going to have some definite highs and definite lows throughout your time abroad. The positives will definitely outweigh the negatives, but they are still there and should be recognized and acknowledged. Just think of your typical semester at CU Boulder; it has definitely got its ups and downs, right? This is no different. Just know that your feelings are totally normal and you should not feel selfish or ungrateful that you aren't always having fun.

You are definitely going to learn as you go, and nobody is every fully prepared to move abroad for six months, but these are just a few things on my big list of travel tips that you should consider these when preparing to go abroad yourself. Even though I still have about a month or so before coming back to the US, this has been the experience of a lifetime and I would not trade it for the world!