University of Iowa

Preparing For Your Time Abroad

January 20th, 2017

By Quinn Terrill*


Yes, I took a picture with my sunscreen collection. Sunscreen in Costa Rica is wildly expensive. Crossing my fingers I'm not burnt to a crisp the first month! 

As this is my first blog post, I will tell everyone a little about myself. My name is Quinn Terrill; I’m a senior at the University of Iowa studying Human Physiology and planning on a very epic victory lap after this semester is over. I will be living in San Ramón, Costa Rica to study women’s global health alongside ecology. The choice to go abroad was simple; my dad talked incessantly about his year abroad in Russia and basically groomed me from a young age to prepare for a similar formative experience. Being born and raised in Iowa City, going abroad for four months in another continent has not only been a major event for me but also my family. I’ve been bombarded about how to stay in contact with me for the past 2 weeks by every relative. More notably, my Grandpa, who is…. technologically impaired sent me a text “How toe reach yoU wen g0ne/”. After deciphering this, I printed out a contact list for my whole family with my address, program director, email, Facebook and other social media. They have rated this method with “4/5 stars” so I thought I would share. I think they took a star away just out of basic principle.


Packing will look worse before it gets better! This was probably my third time trying to pack for my trip. Definitely go through your bag multiple times and try to trim down on the items you pack. I should've probably taken my own advice on this one. 

I will now give all the knowledge I have right now for some tips to start your own study abroad process. When planning on choosing to study abroad ask people about their experience. Older people, like parents can give the greatest insight on how studying in another country affected their personal growth. Again, my dad had many stories about his 1994 abroad experience. The most memorable being that during the HIV outbreak many Russians believed that Westerners brought the disease to the East and as a result abroad students had to get tested. My dad goes in to get his blood drawn, and the nurse pulls out a needle, floating among others in a fluid filled jar. The nurse begins to walk over to test my dad with what was obviously a previously used needle for other HIV patients. Moral of the story, be aware of what is happening to you at all times, you could get HIV. Additionally, your friends, such as mine who have gone to Ireland and Spain, will give you more modern tips on how to maneuver around a foreign country. These sorts of conversations not only got me really excited to begin the process but also helped me choose where I wanted to go. The closeted Iowa girl writing this post realized the world was a much bigger place than just North America and Europe.


The Lonely Planet series has a individual book for each country with endless travel tips! I've been out of academic Spanish since high school so this phrasebook will not only help me brush up, but it give you local slang words and phrases too. 

Now that you’ve planned out your home country for the next four months, it’s time to prepare. And pack. And prepare more. Ultimately this is overwhelming for all (it was for me). To begin, I strongly recommend purchasing a Lonely Planet book about your country. This will give you great insight on culture, social formalities, slang words, food, and more. I’ve been using mine like a Bible for Costa Rica. However, just like anything I do, I put a lot of things to the last minute, including looking at my said “bible”. Of course, I crammed on the plane. Don’t be like me. But if you are, you’re not alone. If you are traveling to a country that doesn’t speak English, fret not. Duolingo is a great app that you can practice with every day for 5 minutes to get something under your belt.

Second major key for preparation is taking the time to utilize an under-advertised service at Student Health: the Travel Clinic. Not only did I get all my immunizations but also the nurses there have mounds of health-related information on your specific country. The nurses will have a one hour meeting with you and will attend to individual needs. I knew I would need some motion-sickness medicine that they provided for me. See, I’m the person no one wants to be in the backseat of a car with, so this was a selfless act, really.

I depart today, January 20, 2017, and I’m feeling equal parts nervous and excited. I’m nervous mostly for the isolation and, for whatever reason, living with a host family. More importantly I’m excited for meeting new friends, seeing a new part of the world, and fully immersing myself into another culture. A great piece of advice for any student who is having the “what did I just get myself into” moment: know this will change your life. I was told by a world traveler, “Empty your cup completely. The cup containing everything about you that is American. On your trip when you encounter something difficult, realize you are refilling your cup and accept that reality”. So, my cup is empty for now.

Go Hawks! Update will be coming soon.

P.S. I am running a little experiment. Many say the worst thing you can do is over pack. I took that advice but naturally still over packed. I’m justifying my actions by calling this an experiment for prospective students. Stay tuned.

*Quinn Terrill is a junior studying health and human physiology at the University of Iowa. The Iowa City, IA. native will be spending her semester abroad on the USAC San Ramón program in Costa Rica. 

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