Survival Guide to Studying Abroad

Want your own Lizzie McGuire moment? Well, studying abroad may or may not be for you. Unlike the Lizzie McGuire movie where she goes on a field trip to Italy for middle school graduation, studying abroad entails much more than trying new gelato flavors, though that’s a plus, or meeting a foreign stranger and falling in love. Studying abroad means being open to living in an entirely new country and living and breathing those different cultural vibes, which you will have to immerse yourself in, but it will make you a better person for it.

As a veteran of studying abroad, I will attempt to make your lives easier by giving you a breakdown of what it takes to make it in the abroad world, along with some tips on what to remember and what to expect while you’re away.

Pre-studying abroad hustle

Congrats! You’ve achieved the first step of studying abroad, which is actually deciding to study abroad. There’s tons of mental hurdles you have to overcome to get to this point, including accepting that you’ll might have to be in a long-distance relationship, accommodating your financial comforts of getting loans or saving money, and overcoming the fear of going to live in a new country, especially if you’re going by yourself (Extra kudos to those who go without knowing anyone in your program. You’re a brave one). If you haven’t considered any of the previous hurdles mentioned, you may want to take the time to do so before going abroad because it’s much bigger deal than you think.

Here’s a list of everything you need to keep in mind now, and, yes, it’s a lot:

  • Renew your passport if the expiration date is anywhere near the date you need to get back to the states, and this is especially true if you plan on travelling after your study abroad program ends. It costs $110 to renew your passport, so start saving money like yesterday.

  • Apply for your work visa as early as possible if you will also be doing an internship while abroad. Prices vary for country. For instance, I studied abroad in London and paid about $450 for my work permit, ouch. Moreover, please check over the details of the dates and everything else at least four times because it takes about a month for the embassy to send it back to you, and depending on when you leave to go abroad, you’ll need it on your passport. Renew your passport at least a month before applying for the work visa.

  • Buy your plane tickets early. The downside to buying your plane tickets early is that you’ll have to decide soon whether you want to continue travelling afterwards, or if you’ll have an internship the following semester that you have to commit to. I recommend buying the tickets either through a credit card that gives you points or miles or using Skyscanner, which also comes through for you when looking for inexpensive tickets while abroad. Important note: do not buy tickets to travel while abroad until you actually are abroad because your program will have events scheduled for you, plus unforeseen events like natural disasters or political issues can come up.

  • Call your credit card companies, and let them know where you plan on going the next couple of months, including the places you plan on visiting. Also, apply for a credit card that has no foreign transaction fees or hidden rates so that you can use while you’re abroad, if you don’t have one already. Try to apply for the card at least two months before your trip. I recommend the Bank of America Travel Rewards Credit Card, which gives you points and has no yearly fees.

  • Shopping! Yes, you’ve finally gotten to the fun part. Try not to go too crazy, but please be prepared for the type of weather there is in your country of choice, especially if it’s winter (Florida girls, I’m talking to you, trust). Also, check the amount of luggage you are allowed to take, particularly if you’re using different airlines.

  • Pack at least three days in advance, and separate between your “must-haves” and “maybes” pile so that you can decide what’s most needed and what can stay behind if there’s no more room in your suitcase. Bring a good backpack for weekend trips because I obviously forgot mine, so don’t be me.

  • Get WhatsApp and GroupMe because you may get a new SIM card when you go abroad, but those apps will save your life when trying to communicate with people back home.

So you’re here, now what?

You survived! Your main goal? Be safe, but have fun. As dramatic as that may sound, your safety and well-being are key factors in your study abroad experience. and that varies based on the country you’re in.

The first few days will be overwhelming, and that’s okay. Chances are your program may have jam-packed your schedule from the moment you arrive so that you don’t succumb to jet lag, which you probably will.

Start getting acquainted with your roommate and the perfect time to do so will be when on the hunt for your closest supermarket. I got lost with my roommate for 40 minutes, and it was a struggle but was super hilarious in hindsight. Other American universities will also probably be with your program, so get prepared to be social.

Get together with the students from your school because they’ll probably be your tiny family for the next couple of months. Try to figure out your groups early on but be open to being friends with everyone. Remember, you’re in a new country so you need as many friends as you can get, but also don’t go in expecting everyone to get along (my naïve mistake).

Your school friends will be the easiest to make because you all tend to bond over going to the same school, but try to make other new friends as soon as possible. My biggest mistake while being abroad was making friends with people from other universities during my last month because they ended up being amazing, and I only got to know them for a short time period.

Keeping in touch

Don’t forget your family because your mom will resent you for it. Call your parents, and don’t be rude because they did give you the greatest gift of all: your life. Also, facetime all your friends because it’s way more fun to do it when you’re in another country. Start shopping for the perfect gifts as soon as you see them for your friends and family, so you don’t stress during your last week.

The final countdown

By the time you reach your last two weeks while abroad, you will have epic anxiety over all the things you wish you had done, and I’m here to tell you that the hustle is so real. You didn’t get to do everything, but that’s fine because it is impossible to do everything you had expectations to do.

Breathe it all in, and take a walk in that park by your neighborhood because once you’re gone, the blues definitely kicks in. Appreciate every moment because as much as you may be homesick, once you’re back home for two weeks, you’ll wish you could go back.

Immersing yourself in a new culture is a beautiful thing. The memories you will have with your friends from abroad are truly one of a kind and entirely different from the ones you have back home, despite not being physically close with everyone. As I write this, I grow more nostalgic and look back at my pictures with great joy, and you will too.

Keep the adventure growing strong, collegiettes.

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