The University of Iowa

Study abroad eve

February 2nd, 2015

By Lauren Bannon

Three months ago to this exact date was the day I accepted to spend the spring semester in Thessaloniki, Greece. After sending the acceptance e-mail, I remember calling my mom, my boyfriend, my friends – anyone who would listen – and then wondering how in the world I could ever wait three months to leave for Greece.

Shockingly enough, those three months flew by as I prepared for the upcoming semester. Between finals, the holidays, and working to save up for my adventures, I didn't have as much prep time as I expected. Looking back on the past three months, I have a few preparation tips I would pass on to future study abroaders. 

Don't forget to pack your Hawkeye gear!

1. Make lots of lists. My affection for making lists even rubbed off on this blog post! But really, you're going to want to have packing lists and to-do before you leave lists and then lists to keep track of your lists. Anything to make sure everything is done and ready before you leave for your destination.

2. Research your new home. You obviously do some research before you pick a school and location, but now it's officially time to dig a little deeper. Look into the city and country's hidden treasures so you can experience them for yourself as soon as you arrive rather than later in the semester. Also have a rough idea of places you want to travel – your new friends will probably want to start making some plans for your semester as soon as you arrive!

3. Get to know your group. Many study abroad groups make Facebook groups for their students to ask questions and chat in. Thankfully, American College of Thessaloniki did this for us, but then someone in our group took it a step further and made a GroupMe for all 50+ (yes, that was 50+) of us. It meant for quite a few messages, but we could ask questions and share our excitement for our adventure. As the only University of Iowa student in the group and not really knowing anyone going, it was great to kind of get to know everyone and their personalities. Even if we haven't officially met yet it definitely took some of the stress out of getting to know each other out of the situation.

4. Spend time with your family and friends. I'm super close with my family, so spending the last month at home working and hanging out with them was perfect. It was also great to go back to Iowa City and see my friends before I left. 9 hours’ time difference is a big deal and I know it could be hard to chat with them every day, so I wanted to make the most of my winter break. Thankfully there are plenty of apps to stay connected (Viber, Facetime, Skype) and everyone loves to get snail mail every once in a while!

5. Talk budget. Whether you worked all year to save for your trip or your parents are helping you out, it's always a good idea to sit down and budget your months abroad. There's no worse feeling then having to call your parents half way through and ask for more money. Personally, I talked to people that had done my program in the past as well as friends that spent time abroad in other cities. It's always a good idea to get a firsthand account to compare with your idea of how you'll spend money. 

6. Pack​. A very obvious thing to do, but make sure you're packing right. When I first packed my suitcase I had packed six sweaters. The weather is currently 58 degrees in Greece and only going to get warmer - I do not need six sweaters! Again, ask friends or others that have visited your city for advice and research the weather for the whole time you'll be there and pack accordingly. Also Google or search on Pinterest "Packing for a Semester Abroad." Those posts help save me while I packed!

7. Take a deep breath. This is coming from a self-proclaimed worrier, but I really do mean it. You're about to have the time of your life living and learning in a new country and discovering a new culture. Yes, it will be a big adjustment and some nerves are okay, but you should be excited to start this new wonderful chapter in your life!

Lauren is a senior from Cedar Falls, IA majoring in marketing and finance with a minor in communication at the University of Iowa. She is currently studying abroad on the American College of Thessaloniki (ACT) Program in Thessaloniki, Greece.