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Study Abroad Like a Pro

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Jan. 14, 2015

Getting ready to study abroad? Overwhelmed trying to pack? Here are some things that helped me have a good semester overseas.

1. Pack Lighter - Studying abroad my sophomore year, I took a trip across the English Channel to France for a weekend tour. No room for luggage, I stuffed a backpack with clothes. Sunshine was in the forecast all weekend, but I wore rain boots all over Paris, you know, just in case the forecast was wrong. Don’t be me: pack a little lighter. That extra pair of jeans, the back-up for the back-up pair of shoes, leave them. If you do need something, you’ll be able to find it overseas. 

2. Savor All the Food - Upon arriving in England, I stopped at the local Tesco grocery store, and stocked up on some basics, like bananas, green peas, and Nutella (naturally)! Though food in England was not extremely different, my already sensitive stomach was not going to be happy with fish and chips every night. By eating familiar foods alongside new foods, I was able to better enjoy the new foods I was trying. Wherever you’re headed, do shop local, do try new cuisine, but don’t be afraid to temper the new with some common basics, such as fruit, vegetables, and protein (e.g. nuts, peanut butter, eggs, chicken).

3. Use Some TLC for Homesickness – The biggest thing that helped me cope with homesickness was keeping in touch with my family; Skyping them regularly was a lifesaver! I also kept a travel blog, so that my loved ones could share in my experiences. When you first arrive, take some time to rest and get adjusted to the time difference. Take a walk to orient yourself to your new environment, and spend some time with the new people around you, both in and outside of your program. Adjusting takes time, so be patient with yourself as you begin this adventure.

4. Be Part of the Culture - I was actually thankful for the no pictures sign posted in the Sacre Coeur in France. Part of the experience of the beautiful white cathedral was walking up the marble steps and gazing up at the mosaic ceilings inside. If I had been allowed to take pictures, I probably wouldn’t have fully appreciated the beauty of this place. I would have been distracted. It’s easy in this digital age to feel the need to stay constantly connected to the world at home. Sure you’re going to share pictures and posts about your experiences. But after you’ve taken some photos, take some time to see the landscape, the museum, the architecture, with your own eyes. Soak it in and just be. This will make your excursions and explorations more memorable.

5. Bring it Home with You - The best things I’ve brought home from my travels abroad have not been souvenirs, but the common traditions of daily life abroad. I drank tea before I went to England, but my host family taught me the practice of putting a little milk in my tea, and taking it with biscuits (a flat type of cookie). As you enter another part of the world, let yourself soak in the unique aspects of the culture. This has enriched my life and the lives of my family and friends, who have been thrilled to participate in my experiences abroad.

The few months I spent abroad in England changed how I viewed the world. My walk to school alone took me under an arch older than the founding of America, and my school was in the midst of the ruins of an old monastery. I learned I loved stories, the history of places, and time spent with my host family over tea. My spirit of adventure was sparked in England—the experiences I had and the friends I met made are treasured memories. Enjoy it and bon voyage!