I spent the spring of 2015 studying abroad in York, England (small plug: it’s the best city in the world). While I’m back in the United States now, I learned some valuable things in my time abroad. These are in no particular order, but they’re all things that I think college students should know before studying abroad. No doubt about it, your experience will be amazing, but I’m just hoping these make your trip the best it can be.
1. Journal/Blog/Vlog/Instagram/Etc.: Use some form of writing, photography, social media, or all of the above to keep track of the things you do. From the crazy awesome days wandering through Paris to the casual day in your town, these things will take you back down memory lane once you’re home. In the moment it seems like you’ll remember every single detail, but it’s incredible how fast memories fade. The ones documented will be precious.
2. Recognize culture shock. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to Honduras, Ghana, or England…wherever you go it’s important to know the culture will be different. Embrace it. Love the differences. America isn’t the only place that has figured out how to be a functional country. Other cultures have many wonderful things to offer! Don’t get stuck thinking everything should be like America, even if the country’s primary language is English, because SPOILER ALERT: it’s not.
3. Make a playlist. Songs have the unique ability to take you back exactly to where you where and what emotion you were feeling if you listen to them long enough. Not only is it convenient to have a playlist handy for any long walks into town you may encounter, but it will be your friend on plane and train rides, and you might even blast it through your phone speaker as you hike a mountain. When you get back home, any time you hear those songs you’ll be transported back to your adventures. A playlist is the best reminder of good times (and let’s be honest it’s like a free souvenir).
4. Pack versatile clothing. I’m not saying you need to put tremendous effort into making a monochrome wardrobe, or even that you have to make it your mission to be the best dressed person in your new hometown, but with limited suitcase space, life will be much easier if you pack clothes that mix and match. GIRLS: On the same note, pack some different statement necklaces and pretty scarves and you’re good to go. The last thing you want is to look back at all your pictures of the amazing places you went and discover you’re wearing the same school t-shirt in every one of them.
5. Take a spoon with you everywhere you go. I’m not sure if this applies everywhere over the world, but for those going to England/Europe, take a spoon. When you can’t afford the local cuisine every night (that gets WAY expensive), many meals can be made up of yogurts and granola bars from convenience stores. *sidenote: if you can find a spork it’s a real added bonus because you can eat pre-packaged salads and basically your food options become almost endless.
6. Trains are the best form of transportation. Although it often seems like flying may be the quickest way to your next destination, remember you need to be at the airport hours early and have to deal with security. Airports are also usually located a fair distance outside of a city and it costs money to get transportation to it. On the contrary, train stations almost never have security, you can arrive 5 minutes before your train departs, and they are usually centrally located, meaning you can walk to them for free. Added bonus: trains allow you to take in the landscapes of the countries you’re traveling through. Looking out the window is entertainment.
7. Invest in people. Whether it’s other people from your group or housemates/locals in your study abroad location, take the time to invest and get to know others. The people from your group will understand homesickness and missing things from home (I’m looking at you, American peanut butter), and locals know of much better cafes and shops than you can find on your own. There are so many beautiful things in this world but the most amazing of all is human relationship. You will gain a much deeper connection with a place if you breathe life into the people around you. Building relationships will also make you ache less for the ones left behind at home.
8. School is very different than school in America, SO BE INVOLVED. Let’s just say it’s a nice break from weekly exams and hundreds of pages of reading every night. That said, you have plenty of time to join a sports team or a club. Most times they do a little bit of whatever they say they do and then they go out for drinks. Best. Clubs. Ever.
9. A few months past faster than you ever thought possible. Enjoy every moment! It’s so cliché, but it really does pass in the blink of an eye. Before you know it you’ll be home, looking at pictures, and wishing you could go back.
10. You’ll leave your heart there. You’re going to miss it. It was the best time of your life. You’re going to create deep relationships, with places and people—just know it’s okay to miss it.
Now go on ahead, go abroad. It will be the best thing your college self could ever do.