5 Things You Should Know Before Studying Abroad
Check The Boxes
You’ve received your acceptance letter – now what?! First things first: the practical things. Book your flight, order some foreign currency to get you started over there and do some research.
- What does the weather look like at that time of year? Pack accordingly.
- Make sure you have the documents needed: passport, student visa, travel and health insurance, etc.
- Read up on the culture, customs and laws. If, like me, you have a practicum to work while there, figure out what the appropriate professional dress-code is! What was appropriate in Canada was not appropriate in Barbados. Our advisor took one look at our “work” clothes when we arrived and sent us off in search of new work outfits!
- Cell phones – is it enough to keep your phone on airplane mode and connect to Wi-Fi when you need it? Will you be more comfortable getting a new SIM card for your phone once you’ve arrived? Should you buy a new one while you’re there? Find what works for you!
- Don’t neglect your student advisor – they can help you with information about opening a bank account, figuring out where to stay, etc.
Take Double The Money, Half The Stuff
One checked bag and a personal carry-on item is all you really need; maybe one piece of carry-on luggage if you’re a heavy packer. I managed to study abroad for six months with one suitcase full of stuff (granted, it was a tight squeeze and I desperately wished I had more clothes to choose from, at times). Always remember that what you leave behind, you could probably find once you get there.
Money, on the other hand, is gold. Bring more than you think you’ll need – just in case. You don’t want to have to decline opportunities to explore with your peers!
You Will Miss Home and Miss Moments
Even if you are having the time of your life, even if this new country has begun to feel like home, you will miss the people you left behind and you will miss moments. You might be in a situation that you would never experience while at home or would know how to respond to in your own culture but not the one you’re in and you will miss the familiarity that home provides.
While I was gone, my best friend had a beautiful baby girl and I missed it – I finally met her when she was nearly six months old. While I was away, nearly all of my fellow study abroad peers had friends or family visit them at one point. Mine unfortunately couldn’t make the journey to visit and seeing the brightness in my friend’s faces when they saw their parents and siblings made me wish that mine could be there, too.
Sure, you’re going there for school but don’t kid yourself: you’re going to be having fun! My study abroad experience consisted of working full-time hours, Monday to Friday, and spending every other moment either on the beach, experiencing the nightlife or exploring the island. Who needs sleep, am I right? While I was lucky in that I didn’t have any exams to study for, my days were taken up by work. Even so, I still felt that I spent more of my time out having fun and experiencing life there than I did “working”.
Your life while studying abroad will be all about finding that sweet spot of balance.
Your Life Might Be Changed
If you go into this experience with an open mind, your life might be changed. Life on a Caribbean island was drastically different from life in the prairies of Alberta. Some of my peers experienced a bit of culture shock; I figured it was my past travel experiences that spared me the shock. Instead, I suddenly felt like life was right again. Whether you have a hard time adjusting or are able to just melt into it, your experience might have the power to completely shift your perspective on the type of life you thought you wanted to live.