The Definitive Guide: Preparing for Study Abroad

So you’ve decided that studying abroad is for you? Now is the time to spread your wings and enjoy a new part of this beautiful earth. Assuming that you have finished applying to school and have already applied for your student visa, it is now time to think about getting out the door! Here, for your convenience, is a master list of the things you’ll need to think through before stepping onto the plane:

The Complete Master List of

Housing 

Most universities will ensure student housing for their international students. Staying in student accommodation will keep you close to campus and in the social circles of other freshers. However, if you really want to break into the culture of the local area and prefer a family environment, why not look into finding a host family?

I live with a host family who I met through friends and I couldn’t be happier. Being able to get away from the hubub and culture shock of school at the end of the day has made being abroad more manageable. And it is indescribably helpful to be in a family environment when I am homesick.

Cell Phone 

International phone plans are a joke. Most are super over-priced without giving you much of anything. Make sure that your phone is unlocked before you leave. Then, once you arrive, you can easily buy a sim card with a pay-as-you-go plan, insert it into your phone and walla! You are all set with a local number.

Expert tip: Use OpenSignal’s worldwide cell service map to find the best carrier and SIM card plan before you go. 

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Some airports have SIM card vending machines.

A lot of people in Europe use WhatsApp for communication, so you will want to download that before you go. Also, make sure your friends and family at home are set up to talk to you. Decide on a conversation plan (even a schedule) with each of your closest friends. My best friend and I like to use email. My sisters prefer SnapChat and group texts on iMessage. My parents love Facetime. Just make sure you have a way to reach all the people you need the most.

Expert tip: before you leave, teach your parents and or grandparents how to use Facetime, Skype, or another video chat app. You’ll be glad you did!

If you have a smart phone, here is a list of 10 apps you should make sure to download before you leave. 

Finances 

Make time to sit down with your parents or a trusted adult advisor to work through a financial plan and budget. Be conservative in your estimates and leave room for unexpected expenses. You don’t want to suddenly run out of money on the wrong side of the ocean.

Here are things to think about when budgeting:

  • Housing
  • Food
  • Socialising
  • Transportation to and from class as well as around the city
  • Travel on weekends or breaks
  • Entertainment and sightseeing
  • Souvenirs
  • Emergencies, such as medical care

You can set up a bank account once you get there, but you will probably want a little bit of currency and/or a travel credit card (with no foreign transaction fees) before you get on the plane, just for peace of mind.

Make sure that you notify your credit card company that you are traveling. You really should use a local card to avoid transaction fees, but if you have to use your home card in a pinch, you don’t want the company shutting down your account.

Expert tip: find out if any local bank is connected to a bank in your destination. Do some research about the best plans for international students. That way you can get the process to having a local bank account going as soon as you get there with little hassle. It’ll be one less thing to worry about during the first few overwhelming weeks adjusting to your new home. 

Packing 

Of course, the no-brainer is to make sure and bring all your necessary travel documents. If I were you, I’d also bring photocopies of the following items:

  • Passport
  • BRP card/letter
  • Birth Certificate
  • CAS letter
  • Letter from university endorsing your visa
  • immunisation and other relevant medical records

Don’t forget to check your destinations power outlet. Most countries don’t use the same one as the US, so you’ll need a power adaptor.

Pack light. The main point here is to take less than you think you will need. Getting stuff across the ocean and back is a huge hassle. Plus, you may be buying souvenirs while you are there, so save some room! If you feel your wardrobe is incomplete or you forgot your favourite hair spray, there will most likely be loads of affordable shops within walking distance. And I’m not gonna lie, shopping (even budget shopping) in a new country is super fun!

Expert tip: Americans tend to dress more casually than the rest of the world, particularly at university. Do research on local customs but remember that very likely it would be considered inappropriate and even rude to wear sweats and t-shirts to class. In Wales girls dress in tights and nice dresses, sometimes even heels, just for lectures! So don’t bring more floppy t-shirts and yoga pants than you need to lounge around your room in. 

Things to leave home:

  • Blow dryers/flat irons (due to the voltage difference you are likely to blow a fuse and/or ruin your equipment)
  • Books (I love love love my books, but they are very heavy and the number one thing that needs to go when your suitcase is overweight. Instead, take a nice walk and find your closest local library as soon as you arrive at your destination! It will be a fun and relaxing morning activity)
  • Shampoo/Soap and other daily necessities (Pack a travel sized amounts in your carry-on, for in case you lose your luggage. For the most part, you can buy that stuff when you get there!).

The specific items you’ll need to bring should be catered to where you are going to live. Remember to take the weather into account. If you are from Florida moving to Europe, don’t bother bringing your bikini collection, instead find some sweaters at the thrift store. If possible, find a local friend through a Facebook or the international office that you can discuss essentials with.

My tippity top things to bring for the United Kingdom:

Invest in high-quality and cute rain gear. Since you will likely be dealing with rain for a good part of the year, you’ll want to look nice and feel confident in your rain gear. Rain coats are preferable to umbrellas because it is so windy that umbrellas break easily. Plus, a raincoat can be easily stuffed into your bag at any time, whereas umbrellas start to feel really heavy after you’ve been walking for a while.

Here is the jacket I use love (and use almost every day). You can click on the image to buy it on Amazon:

Waterproof spray your shoes and throw away all those blister-inviting flats. Since you are likely going to be walking a lot more than you did in America, comfortable walking boots are a must. Make sure all your shoes are comfortable! I finally threw away my one pair of uncomfortable flats. Having them around was too tempting. I kept wearing them and paying for it with a week of sore blistered feet.

A Security Blanket. Be it a small book of photos or the teddy bear your best friend gave you, you might need something to hold onto when you are homesick. Even the littlest thing can mean a lot when you are a thousand miles away from your loved ones.

What to Expect 

Take time to thoroughly research the country you will be studying in. It helps a lot to have realistic expectations about the good, the bad, and the ugly of your new home. Make sure you understand the weather patterns, local etiquette, and basic history.

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Great Brittish vloggers via WeTheUnicorn

I read books about Welsh history and culture and watched movies set in Wales before I left. It made everything so much more exciting for me when I actually got there! I also enjoyed watching British bloggers and vloggers in action before I left. In fact, I think I learned a lot about local culture, expectations, and even recommended restaurant and grocery store chains through YouTube!

If you are studying in the UK, check out my definitive guide to the differences between college in the US and the USA.

Conquering Fear and Goodbyes 

This is the part where I put my right hand on my heart and declare: ‘I am so sorry that I hat saying goodbye and I am super bad at it and still learning’.

Saying goodbye is one of the things I hate most in the whole wide world. In fact, if I have the chance, I will try to sneak away before anyone knows I am leaving just to avoid the teary final send-off.

Still, there are some things I’ve learned along the way.

  1. Make sure you and your loved ones are okay with each other. You definitely don’t want to be worrying about whether or not your lil brother is made at you for six months because you accidentally punched him the night before you left. It sounds silly, but take the time to ensure that you are leaving your loved ones on a good note.
  2. Create lil cards and gifts for your younger siblings/best friends to find after you’ve left. This isn’t necessary, but it is super duper fun. Once, when I was gone traveling for my little brother’s favourite holiday (Pi day, on March 14th), I baked a pie and left in the back of the freezer. On Pi day my family face timed me and we ate it together. It was a really special experience.

If you are still a little nervous, check out my blog posts on overcoming fear of travel or how I coped with study abroad jitters or

And there you have it! Once you’ve thought things through and checked your list twice, try not to second-guess yourself or worry too much. Life is so often defined by the unexpected  struggles and triumphs that we never could have planned for. Don’t forget that you are sure to find wonderful and helpful human beings no matter where you go and, even if your family and friends are far away, in this day and age they are never too far to reach out to. So don’t be scared, get excited, and go go go!

Author: Susanna

I'm Susanna, a 20-year-old Christian girl incorrigibly addicted spontaneous adventures. My first dream was to become a pioneer. Unfortunately, I was born a couple centuries late, so I've decided to read, cook, run, and travel the world until my time machine is finished. You'll mostly likely find me getting into trouble and/or eating licorice. I am currently blogging the misadventures of a middle-school teacher in training. Come join me on my quest to become the next Ms. Frizzle!

3 thoughts on “The Definitive Guide: Preparing for Study Abroad”

  1. This is a great guide! I’m not planning on studying abroad for at least another year or so, but when I do, I want to make sure that I’m as prepared as possible. The prospect still terrifies me. XD
    I actually made the mistake of taking like ten books on my last trip to my grandmother’s house for the summer, and I only ended up reading two of the ones I brought and buying a dozen and a half more. Needless to say, packing for my trip back was… interesting.

    Like

    1. Thanks so much Abby! I am so excited for you and for your new adventure in Grenada. Sounds so cool! Keep me updated and let me know if there is anything I can help with : )

      Like

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