As some of you may know, I'll be studying abroad in Switzerland for the Spring 2018 semester. The Marketing-based trip allows for much travel on weekends and breaks, so I've been spending much of this semester in preparation for my trip. As the semester gets closer and closer, I'll be posting a lot more travel blogs on places I go, things I want to do, and most importantly, how I do it.
So, here's to my first Study Abroad blog post, 10 Tips on Preparing for Study Abroad.
1. Make a folder in Google Drive. This was the first thing I did to really start getting my sh*t together. My "Study Abroad" folder has everything from lists of good restaurants, to packing lists, to language cheat-sheets, to "Instagram Photo Locations". This folder is slowly turning into the ultimate travel guide.
2. Befriend the other students going on the trip. Study abroad is all about branching out. Not only will you be getting used to new places, but you'll also be getting used to a lot more people. If you get your roommate assignments ahead of time, invite them to get coffee with you! It might seem scary at first, especially if you're even the tiniest-bit shy, but it helps if you get to know a few people beforehand! Your study abroad group will become your family, after all.
3. Invest in a travel backpack. You'll be traveling a lot on your trip, and the first thing you'll need is a good backpack for weekend trips. When I took my first trip alone to Europe, I bought a Cabin Max Metz Backpack for about $50. The bag is 44 Liter (22"x16"x8"), comes in a lot of different colors, and actually fits in the carry-on compartment in planes. It's probably the biggest size backpack you could get that'd be carry-on approved, and mine stayed in great condition throughout the 3-week long trip.
4. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Most study abroad programs hold a couple of information sessions, meetings, and even classes that you can attend prior to the trip. The advisors and professors know best, so don't hold back from asking them anything and everything that's on your mind. You can also contact students who've been on the trip before-- they're always enthusiastic and willing to answer any questions or concerns you might have!
5. Do your research! I've spent hours just sitting online scrolling through travel blogs, Googling pictures, and saving Instagram posts from those random, super rich travelers. I want to have a good idea of where I want to go and what I want to do at any time of the day, and researching things like entertainment, festivals, and hidden gems allows me to plan ahead and not miss a beat!
6. Seek advice from friends. We all know someone who's traveled outside the country before. Whether they studied abroad last year, vacationed in Paris over the summer, or went on a mission trip over break, they'll be able to recommend their favorite restaurants, bars, and hangout spots to spend time at during your visit. A lot of the time, they're a lot more helpful than Googling "Best clubs in Barcelona".
7. Know your currency. Does the place you're going to accept Euros? Pounds? Dollars? You need to be familiar with the exchange rate and how to pay in the acceptable form of currency (don't worry, most have numbers). Also, get a credit card with a low foreign transaction fee, because rates can be anywhere from 0-3%. ALSO, most gift cards are only redeemable in the U.S... R.I.P. free Starbucks.
8. Create a budget. Between paying for transportation, groceries, admission fees, and food and drinks, going abroad is expensive. Especially with a higher exchange rate, you'll be spending a lot more money than you'll even realize. Sit down before you go on the trip to plan out a smart way to spend your money. Allot a certain amount of money for every week, or limit your spending on things like clubs, festivals, and the more expensive activities. You don't wanna end up with no cash one month into the semester!
9. Make sure you're safe. This step involves the technical processes, like getting travel insurance, knowing international laws, getting any required, or recommended, vaccines, and having the required legal documents to travel. Having ID and a passport is the most important, so make sure they will be valid both upon arrival and upon departure. Different countries have different requirements for getting a Visa, so make sure you research what exactly you'll need to be allowed to travel.
10. Learn as you go, and stay open-minded. Let's be real, studying abroad is a learning experience. You're there to not only complete the educational program, but you're also there to learn about the world, see and try new things, and grow as a person. Don't be discouraged if you make a To-Do List and don't get to check off all the boxes, and don't object to going to a country that you didn't have in mind, or know nothing about. You're there to learn and thrive in new places, so sometimes just go with the flow, and remember that your once-in-a-lifetime experience is just the beginning.