Study Abroad 101

Well, it’s finally about that time. My finals are just around the corner and by this time next week I’ll officially be finished with my study abroad semester and spending 2 more weeks traveling around Europe before coming back to the States. With that being said, I’ve thought a lot about what to tell people when they ask me for advice on a study abroad experience and this is what I’ve come up with. I hope its as helpful to you as it was in letting me procrastinate for a few minutes from stu(dying) for my finals!

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Before you go:

You’ve been dreaming about going abroad since as long as you can remember, and you are starting the process to make that dream a reality. Best advice? Do your own research before you leave. I was looking at 3 places in particular to do my study abroad semester and to narrow it down, I decided to look up as much as I could about the different places, which helped me immensely.

Make sure and ask your advisor about the grading at the university you’re looking at! I had no idea how hard the grading scale was in the Netherlands, and how strict their grading was in general. I’ve been told by countless staff, teachers, and students at my university, VU, how impossible it is to earn an A. Definitely something you want to know before getting to the university.

Where will you be living? Is your housing accommodation located close to the university, the city, etc? This will be your home for the next semester, month, or year so make sure you get all the information you can before you choose! I thought I would be living in an apartment right across from my campus and the main building, but turns out it’s really 2 tram stops away. Worth looking into and double-checking with your advisor.

Packing:

You’re so excited you can barely bear it, you’re officially accepted at your university abroad and in a short time, off to study in a totally different place. But what do you pack? After (a bit obsessively) scouring blog after article after Pinterest post, I finally packed my life for the semester into one large suitcase, a small carry on, and one tote purse. If I could go back and do it again, I would definitely have packed less summer clothes and left more room for warm sweaters and comfy lounge clothes. Yes it was hot as Hades in Mississippi when I left, but immediately when I got off my flight in Amsterdam in a tank and running tights, I froze! Look up the weather before you come and pack light, you’ll want to leave plenty of room for new clothes, souvenirs, etc that you pick up along the way.

Essentials:

Adapter (make sure it’s the world version)

Laptop/iPad for school: it is STUDY abroad after all

Shower shoes: you don’t want to have to risk going barefoot in hostel showers, trust me

Comfy, lounge clothes: these are the first things I was asking for when my mom was sending me a care package, I change into my sweats and slouchy pullover almost everyday when I get back to my dorm

Pictures from home: cheesy? yes, but it’ll make you feel so much more at home in your new environment

Your favorite beauty products/medicines: obviously you won’t leave home without any medicine you are prescribed but you tend to forget about over the counter medicine like Advil or BC powder that aren’t available in every country, same goes for your favorite moisturizer that you use everyday. Stock up and you won’t be sorry. (Your mom will also thank you when she doesn’t have to pay the outrageous fees to ship you your beloved products to your new home. Sorry Mom..)

Open mind: Yes you read that right. With every new experience, you’re going to find a lot of things you aren’t used to and maybe feel out of your comfort zone. Just go with it and kept an open mind!

(if cold) 1 to 2 great warm jackets: Preferably in a neutral color to go with everything and not dressy enough so you can wear it with a going out outfit, to a nice dinner with friends, or to class with your jeans and sweater.

Neck pillow, scarf, sweatshirt or cardigan for the plane: you’ll thank me later

Travel:

Traveling to a new place is always a little stressful and confusing, so to minimize that make sure to have all your flight documents (passport, boarding pass, letters from your university study abroad program, etc) ready to go and look up how to get to where you’re going ahead of time. The more information you have, the faster the process will go.

Communication:

Figure out how you’ll keep in contact with friends and family while you are abroad, whether that means an international phone plan or Facebook messaging. I decided to bring my iPhone and laptop and keep my phone on airplane mode but use the wifi to message everyone through iMessage, an app called Viber, and Facebook messaging and bought a go phone when I got to Amsterdam for my friends here. Works pretty perfectly.

After you arrive:

The day you’ve been waiting for is finally here, you are off to your new place for your study abroad program. First things first, get your bearings of the city. Try and go around your new place as much as possible and if the university is like mine try to attend as many introduction events they offer, they might be a little lame or cheesy but they are the best way to network and meet people.

One of the best things I did for myself in the long run, was forcing myself to check out different parts of the city every week. Already seen the Jordaan? Try out De Pijp neighborhood or maybe Amsterdam West. Mix it up and rely as much on yourself as you can, not Google Maps. This makes it much easier and a way better feeling when later on you want to go somewhere and realize you know exactly how to get there.

HAVE FUN. I know this is a given, but definitely make this your top priority! Seize every opportunity you get and don’t worry about the little things, you’re here for an experience so make it the best one you can!

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