Tips for the Future Study Abroad-er

Cork street art
A stroll through any given part of Cork will more than likely include several encounters with cool street art.

By Caitlin Yeggy*

As I sat down to breakfast this morning, my roommate broke the news to me that only 27 more days remain until our study abroad experience comes to a close.

Three and a half weeks until I will be back home with my family, my friends, my dog, and good peanut butter. Three and a half weeks until I have to leave one of my best friends, my little apartment by the river, my beautiful campus, and the vibrant city that has become my home. I thought about how quickly the time passed and how much I have changed since last August at Chicago O’Hare airport, standing alone with my suitcase, blinking back tears, feeling both ecstatic and terrified of the experience before me. While I don’t think any amount of preparation would have made me fully ready to pause life as I knew it and move across the world, the knowledge I’ve gained within the last year would have been helpful to pre-study abroad Caitlin, I’m sure.

With that in mind, I compiled a list of 15 tips for students who are considering or preparing to study abroad. Hopefully this advice is found useful and gives some insight into the great adventure that awaits! 

Sheep
I made a few woolly friends  during a hike along the Kerry Way. Not a baaaaad time!

1. It will be tempting to stuff your suitcase to the brim before you leave. You may find it incomprehensible to part with a certain shirt or pair of shoes for a semester or year. But trust me, you WILL appreciate the extra room when you’re packing to come home. I smugly ignored all the warnings about this typical packing mistake, leaving no ounce of spare space in my suitcase. Now, after a year of accumulating various clothes, books, decorations, etc., I have to pick and choose which of my belongings I most value, then donate the rest to a local charity shop. *cue sad violin*

2. Make sure your friend group extends beyond Americans. I’ve noticed that many American students stick closely to a group of other students from the U.S., exerting little effort to make friends from other countries. This undermines a major part of the study abroad experience, which is building relationships with people whose cultures differ from your own. To quote a speaker from my introductory presentation at UCC, “This is not the 51st American state. Try to broaden your horizons.”

3. If you’re studying in Europe, eat as much chocolate as humanly possible during your stay. You will never again be satisfied with American chocolate.

4. After your time abroad, you may find you’ve outgrown some of your friends from back home. This is okay - do not try to prevent it.

St. Paddy's Day
Some friends and me celebrating at the St. Patrick's Day parade in Cork last month. 

5. Coinciding with the last tip, remember that you will have to return home at some point. Make sure you continue to nurture the friendships you care about, despite the difficulties time and distance present.

6. When people talk about studying abroad, they usually only mention the “highlight” reel. Hiking in Switzerland? Awesome! Eating Italian gelato? Sign me up! Harboring a sense of pervasive loneliness? Err… what? Don’t panic - it’s okay. But do be prepared. The good times definitely outweigh the bad, but do not expect months of uninterrupted bliss and adventure. Real life happens overseas, too.

7. Download WhatsApp on your phone before leaving. It is very handy.

8. Budget your money in a way that allows you to make the most of your time abroad. I spend very modestly on a daily basis, rarely eating out, going shopping, or spending money at the pubs. Because of this, however, I have been able to travel to eight countries outside of Ireland for lengthy periods of time. Prioritizing pays off!

9. Call your mom more than you think you should.

10. Sending postcards is a good way to keep in touch with the people you wouldn’t normally call or Skype with, but would like to give a little hello.

11. Don’t brag about all your adventurous endeavors on social media. Posting every now and then to let people know what you’re up to is fine, but shoving your cool experiences in everyone’s face will only generate scorn.

12. Skycanner and Rome2Rio are two useful apps for planning travels.

13. Stick deodorant isn’t really a thing in Europe. While it can be found, you will usually find a vastly larger selection of roll-on and spray deodorants. Anyone who is extremely particular about their underarm applications: prepare accordingly.

14. Bringing your own shopping bag is standard when buying groceries in Europe. Always carrying a small, reusable bag that folds up tightly in your purse or backpack will more than likely save you at some point.

15. If you’re having doubts, think of this: five to ten months is not that much of your life in the grand scheme of things. Move to a foreign country, meet new people, explore, and return with a new perspective! The time will pass either way, so why not take a chance?

*Caitlin Yeggy, of Kalona, Iowa, is a sophomore studying English at the University of Iowa. She is spending the academic year abroad on the Iowa Regents Semester in Ireland program in Cork.

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.

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