So You're Thinking About Studying Abroad

Two years ago today, I landed at Heathrow to begin my first study abroad experience. In exactly two weeks, I'll be heading off again for the third time to study abroad, and this time, I'll be getting a degree overseas to boot. I can honestly say that spending my junior fall semester abroad was the single most life changing thing that I have ever done, and it is because of that semester I spent just outside of London that I then spent a summer interning in Paris and am now returning to England for a graduate degree. That semester helped me realise what exactly it was that I want to do with the rest of my life, and it encouraged me to be more open-minded about people, experiences, and life in general.
So if you're thinking about studying/working/living abroad (and I truly hope you are), here are a few tips I have to offer from my own experience.

1. Immerse yourself in local culture. Whether you're going abroad to study, to work, or simply to learn about another culture, I cannot stress how important I think it is that you try to immerse yourself in local culture. Especially if you're in university, register for classes with a local university, rather than an American outpost. You'll get so much more out of the experience living and working with local students, and the odds are high that there will be other Americans around doing the same thing you are. You'll learn about language and customs in a unique and priceless way when you're learning from locals. I've studied at a local university (in London) and worked with Americans (in Paris), and the opportunity to truly immerse myself in British culture was one I wouldn't change for the world, while I left Paris wishing it had been a more immersive experience (and wishing that I had picked up more French!).
2. Pack lightly but practically. Unless you have the money to ship boxes overseas (which can be a slow and costly process), packing for several months in two suitcases is going to be quite a challenge. First of all, I'd definitely recommend getting some compression bags, which give you more space in your luggage- they're seriously lifesavers. Secondly, think particularly carefully about the numbers of everything you want to take with you, especially shoes. Look for street style blogs from the country you're headed to in order to see what types of things locals are wearing--you don't want to stick out like a sore thumb! Once you get there, you'll find all sorts of stores you never even knew existed, and you're definitely going to want to shop, which is when all the extra clothes you brought with you is going to get in the way. Bring your basics, and your favorite pieces, but leave your multiples at home (and wear your boots on the plane to save space in your luggage).
3. Toiletries are important. Makeup is much more expensive overseas than it is in the States, so I would make sure to stock up on that before you leave. On the other hand, good shampoo, conditioner, face wash, moisturizer, etc. are easy to come by abroad, so unless you have absolute favorites you know you can't live without, I'd leave those things behind. Do bring deodorant unless you like the aerosol kind (I definitely don't), and unless you're going to the UK, feminine products can be rather different than what you're used to, so consider that before you leave.
4. Think about money. If you're planning on being abroad for close to a year, I'd consider getting a local bank account, if you're going to be there for less, time, however, bank accounts can be a hassle to open overseas, as can transferring money and changing currencies. Instead, look at the partnerships American banks have with foreign banks. Several partner with other banks so that you can use their ATMs without any fees (Bank of America is great for this), and other American banks will reimburse your ATM fees up to a point. Be sure to check before you go. Also, make sure your credit card has a chip and pin system on it. It will save you a lot of hassle in train stations, not to mention in the shops.
5. Take your phone with you. Most of the time, you can get your phone company here to unlock your cell phone if you tell them that you're going abroad for the short term. If you do that, you'll be able to buy a SIM card in your new home and put it in your existing phone. It's extremely convenient, especially if you have a smartphone. Overseas, prepaid plans are much more common and are probably the way to go, unless you'll be abroad for a year or so.
6. Document everything. For a much more lighthearted tip: Take pictures of everything! Write your experiences down! You might feel a bit touristy exactly when you're trying to blend in, but you'll regret not taking pictures much more than you'll regret taking them. You'll want to have those things to remind you of the great memories you've made.
7. Be prepared for reverse culture shock (but don't let it overwhelm you). Culture shock almost goes without saying, and is very different for everyone, but reverse culture shock happens too, and can almost be worse. When you come home, you'll have so many thing you'll want to share about your trip,  but those might not be the exact things people want to hear about. Seek out other people who have gone abroad before. Even if they didn't spend their time in the same place as you, they'll know what it's like to have gone somewhere completely different and to have come back again. That helped me a lot when I got back from England after my semester abroad.
Have you ever spent an extended amount of time abroad? I would love to hear about it!
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