Preparing for a Semester Abroad

Preparing to study abroad. The mere thought of moving to a foreign country (possibly not knowing the language, definitely not knowing the culture) is frightening, as is having to fit five months worth of personal belongings into two or three suitcases.

Get advice: The most important suggestion I have is to ask those who have done it before you for advice. An older member of my sorority sent me a ten-page guide to Paris, filled with the best restaurants, shopping spots, nightlife, etc. This guide became extremely important to my beginning time abroad, and without this bit of guidance, I wouldn’t have known where to go or begin. Having starting points of familiar, recommended places makes it easier to explore on your own. And now, after five months spent abroad, I cannot wait to pass my favorite places down to people younger than me.

Get acquainted: Make friends! Find other people on your program! I remember sitting in my pre-departure orientation, worried that I was only friends with about three other people going on my program. However, for some, they knew no one going abroad with them. Once you overcome the hurdle of “not being friends with them at school, so why would I be friends with them abroad,” you will realize that your abroad friends will become a vital aspect of your life there, and when you return home. Having my roommates set and organizing gatherings with people on my program before leaving made the transition less stressful.

Get professional: While it may sounds clich√©, watching videos or reading books from travel mavens such as Rick Steve’s or Samantha Brown are extremely useful. Even while I was abroad, I would check their recommendations for other cities I was planning on visiting, just to give me a sense of where I was going and what I should be doing. Sometimes, traveling can seem aggressive and overwhelming, especially when the destination is unfamiliar. Doing a bit of research and making a plan will help acclimating much more simple.

Get organized: The greatest worry I had about going abroad? How am I possibly going to fit all of my belongings into say, two or three suitcases? The thought of having to leave some of my beloved clothes and shoes behind was anxiety causing. However, sizing down is a must. Making lists of important items, checking weather of your future city (and the places you plan on traveling to), and verifying what items your home stay, apartment, or dorm come equipped with is vital to ensuring what you need will be there when you need it.

Get advised: One of the post-abroad issues I am now facing is credit and class transfer. While the courses offered abroad are limited, make a point to meet with your academic advisor prior to going abroad, and stay in touch during your stay. Choosing the right classes will keep you on track with your requirements once you return back to campus, while choosing the wrong classes may make graduating on time more difficult. One piece of advice: Try to save your general curriculum requirements for your semester abroad, rather than specific major courses. That way, there is more leniencies for what will transfer.

— By Erin Cunningham, George Washington University


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