Wednesday, September 20, 2017

next stop: Greece

Being 9 days, 19 hours, and 57 minutes out from my departure for Greece, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on my preparation. I have been talking about my Greece adventure since last January! This preparation process has been quite different than what I expected. But, I can honestly say that I learned more about myself, my plans, and my priorities. Here I have compiled 10 tips that I would give to someone who is starting to prepare to go abroad

Top 10 Tips: 

1.    CLASSES COUNT: Studying abroad is a once in a lifetime opportunity and you should be ready to have fun and create many memories! But, you also have an obligation of being a student, not just to your visiting institution, but to the University of Iowa. A good way to demonstrate that you want to carry the same discipline is to take courses that count towards your major, minor, or an elective! Research different programs thoroughly and use the experienced advisors in the office. Personally, I am an out-of-state student who wants to graduate on time and not pay for an extra year at Iowa (my parents can thank me later!).

2.    PASSPORTS: THIS IS YOUR MOST IMPORTANT TRAVEL DOCUMENT. I believe this is the most important action to take after you know you are going abroad. The State Department has a great website that provides a list of documents needed to obtain or renew your passport. My passport came before the 8-week allotted time, but there was one problem. My last name was spelled wrong and frustration grew! Do not let little bumps like this get you upset (and don’t call the State Department in a very frustrated, tempered voice like I did.) Make sure you allow time for your passport to be processed and then some if a mistake may occur!  

3.    RESEARCH: Understanding your surroundings is very important. Remember freshman orientation where you went on the campus tour? Dad is usually holding the colored campus map while Mom is looking for all of the blue safety buttons (or was that just my parents?). Knowing the layout of the location you will be in is extremely helpful. Look up the history and culture of your location and prepare yourself to adapt. Thessaloniki is the 2nd largest city in Greece and it is also considered a large college town. It has so much history steeped into it from the Thessalonians to Alexander the Great. Go onto Pinterest, Fodor’s or use other resources to help you. You might just want to start writing down interesting sights you want to visit, especially when they are right in front of you!

4.      KEEP ORGANIZED: Organization is everything! My best advice through this whole preparation process is to be organized. There is going to be a lot of paperwork, emails, and documents; sometimes it may seem overwhelming. The study abroad office is there to help, but it is your responsibility to know deadlines and communicate with the proper people. Create folders and files, scan, copy, highlight – do whatever you need to do to be organized and on top of it. Your future self will thank you! The visa process is very important and requires many documents! Make sure to check with your Consulate if you have specific questions.

5.    COMMUNICATION: Be sure to let your family and friends know that you are studying abroad! This is an exciting time in your life and you’ll need the support system not only when you are away, but during the preparation process, too. They may be able to give you some travel tips, especially if they have traveled internationally. Keep them updated on your plans and be sure to keep in contact. Remember this may be hard for you at times, but it may also be hard on them, especially the parents. Be patient when they ask questions and be understanding. The best people want to support you and know that you are having a great adventure! 

6.    BOOK TICKETS: This is self-explanatory, but be sure to do this early so you can have an itinerary and provide it to your host institution. Search different websites for different prices because some are better than others. If your host institution creates a Facebook group page, make sure to join it! See if there is anyone who lives close to you that may be flying out of a larger regional airport. I am traveling with a student from Michigan State University who lives in Illinois. She put out that she was flying out of Chicago and asked if anyone else was. I answered and soon we booked our tickets together. Putting myself out there and meeting a new person was a huge step in providing some confidence and stress relief, and now I have a travel buddy! 

7.    VISAS AND DOCUMENTS: Visa requirements are different for every country, but if you find out you need to apply for one: START THE PROCESS EARLY. I am going to Greece for a year (over 90 days) so I needed to apply for one. There are others in my group who are staying only for a semester, but it doesn’t hurt to apply for one just in case you choose to stay a little longer. Look up the specific country’s consulate that serves your area. For example, I am from Wisconsin and the closest Greece Consulate that has jurisdiction is in Chicago. Be sure to print out the list of documents that you need to bring there. This is where the organization part comes in handy and you will thank yourself after :) Also, dressing nice is a great way to make a good impression.

8.    DETAILS, DETAILS: I received a 25-page guide from my host institution where it shared EVERY LITTLE DETAIL down to banking, cell phone usage, visa and residence requirements, and what types of cords to bring. All that is very important and I encourage you to write down anything that you may have questions on. ALWAYS ASK QUESTIONS. I was blessed with an enrollment coordinator who has been nothing but supportive and informative! Arden from my host institution has done a terrific job, especially with someone like me who seems to have a question every 24 hours! The people in the University of Iowa’s study abroad program and at your host institution are there to help! Oh, and make sure when you arrive in your country you have a little of their currency! It will make getting around so much easier, even if it is from the airport to your living space.  

9.    PACKING: LISTS, LISTS, LISTS! I have lots of clothes and one big suitcase. The advice that I have been given is to not pack your whole closet and leave room in your suitcase to purchase items in your host country. You do not want to be the one with an over 50-pound luggage bag! I went on two different websites and utilized the ACT Guide to look at different packing lists. Do what works for you! Maybe one list doesn’t have an item on it, but another list does. Also, check the weather of your location before you pack so you can plan accordingly! 

10.    RELISH YOUR LAST DAYS: Being 9 days away I can feel the excitement and some nervousness creeping up! Yes, you can talk about your upcoming adventure until you are blue in the face, but when you have a countdown on your phone and it hits single digits…Well, you might feel panic! So, do not focus on the nervousness, but focus on family and friends! Take care of any last-minute details, whether it be with the University of Iowa or your host institution. For me, watching all the football I can is one of the most comforting things! And remember to reflect on your preparation. This process is unique and it is something to be remembered! 

There you have it! My top 10 tips on the preparation process for studying abroad. It is different for everyone, but I hope you at least walked away with some ideas on how you can approach traveling abroad. Until next time…#GoHawks

Tia Dacquisto

Tia Dacquisto is an international relations major at the University of Iowa.  She will be spending the academic year in northern Greece at the American College of Thessaloniki. 

Student blog entries posted to this International Accents page may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UI Study Abroad and International Programs.  The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.