If you’re considering to study abroad for a semester, a summer, or even for a short spring break trip, then you have the capability to be brave and remove yourself from your comfort zone. However, to actually leap and commit yourself to study in a foreign country is a whole different story. When it comes to preparation, it’s easy to over-pack your bags. When it comes to mental preparation, however there’s no such thing as to over prepare for a semester abroad.
1. Take inventory of who and what you’re leaving behind.
You may be able to squeeze your favorite stuffed animal from your significant other in the pocket of your carry-on and vow to never off the necklace your parents gave you for Christmas, but those material items will only get you so far in keeping some pieces of home with you abroad. Nothing helps prepare for a semester abroad like spending time with them before hand. That means maybe ditching your New Years plans to stay in with your siblings or significant other. It could also mean, consider shopping with your mom rather than the girls you are going to be spending months with shopping in foreign countries! You’ll appreciate that little extra time spent together when you’re missing them when you’re abroad.
As for what you’re leaving behind, the list is a bit more comprehensive. In order to prepare for such is to each his or her own, depending on where you’re studying. I am currently studying in Florence, Italy, but most places in Europe are not as equipped with fast-food chains to grab something on the way to class. So if you’re a picky eater, get in that last McDonalds’ meal. If you’re slow moving in the a.m., it might be helpful to learn how to make something quick before heading out to your classes, excursions, etc.
2. Prioritize your belongings, you cannot fit your entire life in one suitcase.
Correction: in one 50 lb suitcase. Even with the very generous two pound allowance they give you at the airport, I learned the hard way that you cannot fit everything in one suitcase unless you want to pay an extra $100. That’s $100 less you have to spend on trips, new foods, and most importantly WAY cuter clothes than the ones you have packed. European fashion is a whole different story. The Zara is enough to give a girl a heart attack. If you have roommates, consider yourself to have a multitude of closets to choose from. Leave behind your fraternity T-shirts and pack the essentials, save your money and shop when you get there. You will not regret one thing you could’ve bought back in the States.
3. Understand what it means to be homesick.
Being homesick is not going to be this uncontrollable urge to hop on a plane and fly back to America. It’s going to come in waves and everyone is going to feel homesick at some point during the semester. Even if you think you are the most worldly and cultured individual who has lived away from home their entire college career, you can and will become at least slightly homesick. However, it’s nothing to be fearful of and is completely natural. You can prepare for a semester abroad by not letting homesickness take over your life while abroad. Writing in a journal, to family and friends, or even posting on Facebook or in a blog can help you keep everyone up-to-date and you won’t feel alone on your journey abroad. The most important people in your life probably are not with you at this point in time, but keeping them updated is like bringing them along for the ride. They’ll really appreciate the time you are taking to share your new world with them. Also, remember that in order to communicate you are going to need a phone that works abroad. This may require a little more effort than just letting your carrier know you will be in Europe for a semester.
4. Open your mind to new things and experiences.
This is arguably the most important part when you prepare for a semester abroad. You are going to be in a new place with new people, norms, and customs. It is extremely important to do your research before you go in order to avoid being put in uncomfortable situations. A good rule of thumb to follow is to go with your surroundings. If you’re in London and people around you are not being loud, don’t be loud. If you’re in Paris in January and people around you are dressed for the winter even though it may be randomly 75 and sunny, you should still dress for the season. Research, research, research, I cannot say it enough. Learn a few key phrases and norms for the place you are going before you head out. “Hello,” “goodbye,” and “where is the nearest ATM” are only a few examples of things you might need. It is important to know if and how they tip at restaurants or when most shops are open and closed. Above all, you’re not going to be ready for all that this experience has to throw at you so be open minded, be kind, and remember you are a visitor in someone else’s home every time you enter a new city or country.
5. Remember that you are on your own.
Remember those terrifying movies you were told to watch before venturing abroad by yourself? Well unfortunately half of them are true and almost all of them are possible. Except Taken, unless of course your father is a former government operative. Regardless of your life back home, or the kind of family you come from, you’re more susceptible to crime and violence as an outsider in a foreign country. Understand what it means to blend in and don’t try to standout. It is also ideal to know the laws of the country you’re living in, some basic understanding of the government, and what is happening in the cities you are visiting. The buddy system is key, so get to know your roommates before you get on the plane. Once you’re there, set some ground rules about visitors and keeping things locked up. Overall, to prepare for a semester abroad is a huge responsibility so you should not take it lightly. You have worked incredibly hard to get to this point and your parents also have put ample amounts of trust in you to do this thing on your own. So do it and do it well!
Studying abroad is an opportunity of a lifetime, but to say that it’s all fun and travel is a lie. Being prepared can only help your experience, never harm it. Having the world at your figure tips is something you may never get again. Take it in, enjoy it with an open-mind and full heart, and understand that with the right amount of knowledge and faith in yourself, you can do it!
Let us know what helped you prepare for a semester abroad in the comments below!
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My name is Kate Wildonger and I am a Junior at the University of South Carolina & currently have the wonderful opportunity of studying in Florence, Italy. Writing and traveling have always been where & when I find the most happiness and feel the most like myself, & being able to share that with you is a blessing and a dream! XoXo